Town’s Arts Council, State Highway Department Collaborate on Project

Tue October 27, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

More than 10 years in the planning, the Danville Project of Danville, Vt., will relocate Route 2 through Danville with plans hashed out among state transportation officials, town leaders and state art
More than 10 years in the planning, the Danville Project of Danville, Vt., will relocate Route 2 through Danville with plans hashed out among state transportation officials, town leaders and state art



What do street lights, crosswalks, curbs and public safety have to do with artists? Artists usually use construction paper, not construction departments.

But in Vermont, an unusual collaboration between a state highway department and a small bedroom community and its Arts Council will result in the aesthetic relocation of a major state highway in exactly the way the small town would like to have it done.

More than 10 years in the planning, the Danville Project of Danville, Vt., will relocate Route 2 through Danville with plans hashed out among state transportation officials, town leaders and state artists. Over the years, Route 2 has been widened and improved, but the Danville section has yet to be addressed.

According to official estimates, this utilitarian work of concrete and steel artistry in this tiny town in the northeast corner of Vermont, near the New Hampshire line, will cost approximately $8 million when finished.

According to Kenneth E. Robie, project manager of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), program development division, “This project, involving the reconstruction of Route 2 through the village, had a much greater level of coordination with the town than would have occurred outside of the village. It is a curbed section with a closed drainage system and includes roadside aspects such as sidewalk, lighting and landscaping. There is also a component of town highway reconstruction around the village green. There is also the artistic enhancement component, which is unique to this project.”

This project encourages creative solutions to engineering problems surrounding the design and maintenance of infrastructure. The Danville Project proves that including artists in the process is a natural fit, due to their unique visioning and communication skills, and ability to articulate a community’s hopes and dreams. Many of the lessons learned in this small town are already being applied on other planning projects in the state.

Robie said that the Danville Project is currently in the property acquisition phase.

“We anticipate that phase being complete sometime next spring,” said Robie. “We will then complete the contract plans and specifications and advertise for construction. This [phase] will likely result in a construction start, sometime in late summer [2010]. We anticipate the construction will take two full construction seasons with a third year of landscape maintenance.”

Right of Way Issues

Robie said that the project development process is lengthy and often unpredictable, “due to influences outside of our control. Of note with this project has been the development of right-of-way [ROW] plans from which we acquire the necessary property and rights of access. There are over 50 affected parcels on the project.

“Also, due to budget constraints, the project was reviewed for ways to reduce cost. This effort resulted in some changes to the project, which then had to be incorporated into the plans and reflected in the ROW plans. The acquisition phase is also very unpredictable, as it is fully dependent on the level of cooperation of the affected property owners. Another area that required significant coordination was utility relocation, which is still in process,” he added.

Stantec, formerly Dufresne-Henry, is the design consultant.

Robie anticipated that the work will be phased to maintain traffic within the ROW.

“How exactly that will be done will be determined by the contractor,” he said, after a bidding process, which he estimated should be very competitive.

Beyond the standard regulatory concerns — storm water drainage, historic resources and/or archaeology — Robie doesn’t anticipate any major problems, once ROW is granted. Robie has been involved in the project since 2006. Previous to his arrival in the 10-year planning process, two other VTrans project managers were involved, working closely with the town of Danville, the Vermont Arts Council (VAC) and a local review committee, proposing, then approving, various plans.

While Robie couldn’t speak about the cooperative process from the beginning, he did add, that, “Since I’ve been involved, I would say there hasn’t been an inordinate amount of coordination, as it is common practice for VTrans to work closely with the communities through which our projects pass. We have in the past worked with communities on downtown projects that involve a state or federal route. The unusual aspect of this coordination process has been the involvement of the VAC.”

Twenty-Six Years

of Discussion

Michelle Bailey of the VAC said the project was first conceived in 1999 when the Council hosted a statewide arts conference focusing on the arts at the forefront of community development.

“At the conference, the deputy secretary of the agency of transportation, Micque Glitman, participated in a panel discussion about ’Collaborations and Resources for the Future.’ After the conference, Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, and Secretary Glitman had further conversations about the role that the arts might play in Danville, regarding the reconstruction of Route 2 through the village,” said Bailey.

“At the time, the town of Danville and the agency of transportation had been struggling for 26 years with how to make the project happen — specifically in developing a plan that would meet the needs of both the town and the agency of transportation. Route 2 is a major east/west federal highway with large trucks coming through the center of this small town with a population [of] under 3,000.”

Call to Artists

This project officially began in 2000 with the development of the official partnership between the agency of transportation, the VAC and the town of Danville.

“A ’call to artists’ was distributed nationally and two Vermont artists were selected. We went through a series of community meetings and design work in partnership with the community. The final designs were approved by the town and VTrans in 2002,” said Bailey. The funding comes from the federal highway funds and the State of Vermont.

“In addition, Sen. Patrick Leahy was so impressed with the community process, that he was able to earmark $7 million in funds to support this project specifically. Highway projects are able to spend a percentage of their monies on community enhancements,” added Bailey.

Leahy has been a strong and instrumental supporter of the Danville Project since its inception. Through his leadership role in the U.S. Senate, this nationally recognized project has been lauded as a model of Context Sensitive Design, and has received two federal appropriations, the first in 2004 for nearly $2 million, and the second in 2005 for $5 million.

While communities and DOTs have worked together before and there have been public art projects and community/DOT projects nationwide for many years, Bailey added that, “What is interesting and unique about this project is not so much the enhancements that will result from this partnership, but rather the process that the agency and the town went through to resolve their differences and come to consensus on a project in a very small, rural community,” she said.

“This collaboration is something neither VTrans nor the arts council had done before. For us, it was unique and it will, we expect, serve as a useful model for ’context sensitive design’ work in many other small, rural communities for the future.”

The art council’s hope, she added, is not only having artists involved in the planning and to engage the community in the process to help them reflect upon what they value about their community, but “to have those ideas and values reflected in the artistic enhancements for future generations that will live on in Danville for the greater community to enjoy.”

Among the “artistic” elements to be added to the planning are special lighting on historic and energy-efficient lampposts, gateways, a bandstand, special granite posts and special lighting.

Other goals include:

• Expanding the public dialogue about art, aesthetics and community to better understand the creative and artistic process;

• Supporting opportunities for artists to make and present their work for the public benefit;

• Exposing all the partners, constituents and stakeholders to an influx of new ideas;

• Maintaining consistently excellent lines of communication between artists and communities;

• Increasing local and regional opportunities for expanding tourism and cultural heritage;

• Demonstrating that it is possible, practical and cost-effective to create beautiful, safe and productive work for the public benefit.

“The state has been very cooperative,” said Bailey. “None of us has done a project like this before; so, it is all a bit exploratory/experimental. What makes this truly remarkable is engaging the community in a dialogue in a different way; asking them, ’what do they value,’ ’what is special about their place.’ This was a different approach that the artists took from the beginning, rather than asking them what they specific questions about the road.”

While Bailey and the council said they are “very satisfied” with how the process has gone, they are frustrated because, even though the enhancement designs were approved years ago, and money appropriated, the project has still yet to break ground.

So, can artists and highwaymen really get along?

“Sure!” assured Bailey. “We’re all working toward the same goals. Sometimes we have to overcome language barriers and anytime you engage in a partnership, it means some additional work to be sure we all understand one another. But, overall, we all want a successful outcome — and our goals can be achieved together.” CEG