State highway honcho says road repairs multi-year job
Route 9 safety bigger concern than potholes
WILMINGTON- Secretary of transportation Joe Flynn and several VTrans officials met with residents, legislators, and town officials on Monday to address concerns about road conditions in the area. Officials said there are plans to address pothole issues on a three-to-four-mile stretch of Route 100, pothole and rumble-strip issues on Route 9 between Wilmington and Brattleboro, and a portion of Route 9 on the western end of Wilmington village that is failing and sliding toward the river. Approaches to winter road condition management were also discussed.
Flynn said he spent the day prior to the meeting in town so he could evaluate the road conditions. “I wanted to be able to look everyone in the eye and say I’ve driven these roads too,” said Flynn. “And Route 100 south of Dover into Wilmington, you’re playing dodgeball. I agree.”
Flynn said he was more concerned, however, with Route 9 heading west. “The traffic count is much higher on Route 9, and the commercial vehicle traffic count is much higher,” said Flynn. “So when I think about the public safety sphere, that to me has to be more troubling. Route 100 is very irritating, and I agree, I have a small car and if I hit some of those holes with a 15-inch wheel, I’m sure I would blow a tire. I have asked (chief engineer) Wayne Symonds to tell me what we can do soon to mitigate some of the conditions on Route 100. I know that’s of concern to the governor as well. Route 9 is a bit trickier. It’s more heavily traveled, and I think it has 10-plus miles that need some degree of attention.”
Dover Selectboard member Dan Baliotti said there’s no doubt that Route 9 is important and a safety issue, but that Route 100 is the “money route,” as it brings tourists to area resorts such as Mount Snow, which brings revenue to the state. “Without revenue you can’t do anything,” said Baliotti.
Flynn took issue with the idea that money should be prioritized over public safety.
“Public safety is number one,” said Flynn. “With all due respect to revenue, I got it, you’re right, growing the economy is the governor’s first tenet. Making Vermont more affordable and taking care of its most vulnerable. And I agree. But I think everybody in this room understands that public safety has to be the foundation of everything we do as a government.”
Baliotti pushed back, saying that taking commerce into consideration or not, Route 100 needed to be addressed. “I agree with you about safety,” said Baliotti. “But if you drive Route 100 now, it’s not safe.”
“I drove it yesterday, and I won’t disagree with you,” said Flynn.
Symonds said there are plans in the works to begin fixing an approximately four-mile stretch of Route 100.
“Frankly we are going to be over where we want to be on budget, but I think we have a plan for addressing Route 100,” said Symonds. “We’re looking at a thin overlay for about three-and-a-half to four miles. There will be a longer segment where the worst of it is, and then some patches and overlay for the rest, and probably a few enhanced pothole patches here and there. I think we have a plan to do that; we’re going to put the contract together in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully within the June time frame you should start to see some action out there. I think it’s a reasonable and attainable fix and it’s something that can happen this summer”
A deeper restructuring of the road is planned for 2020. “2020 is a more significant upgrade,” said Symonds. “Milling off some material, doing some leveling, and a more substantial thickness of the pavement structure. We have a bridge in Dover on Route 100 that is planned to be replaced next summer, so we’re working to try to get that bridge in place to coordinate so we don’t end up cutting out sections of new asphalt (as part of that project). I would love to be able to say we’ll re-pave in 2019, but it just doesn’t fit in in terms of our budget and planning right now.”
VTrans District Administrator Rob Faley said VTrans also has immediate plans to address a six-mile stretch of Route 9 between Wilmington and Brattleboro where the road has caved in around rumble strips.
Wilmington selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald asked if rumble strips could be left off. “That’s one of the worst ideas I’ve ever seen,” said Fitzgerald.
Faley said the strips would likely be left off in the initial re-pave, but may come back.
“We’re looking at data to see where there are center line crosses,” said Symonds. “Our experience on Route 9 was not great with rumble strips because of the way they were installed. They were ground too deeply and we certainly learned a great lesson in terms of how they should be installed.”
Resident and business owner Lisa Sullivan urged officials to be mindful of high tourist times when planning projects, referring to last fall’s foliage-season repaving of Route 9.
“People were avoiding Route 9 at all costs, which was not great for business,” said Sullivan.
Faley said the Route 9 and Route 100 re-paving projects are planned for May and June and will be completed in advance of foliage season. He was not able to give such specific timing estimates for a slide that has opened up on Route 9 in Wilmington, though, which has resulted in the creation of a one-lane traffic pattern that may be in place for three to four months because officials are not yet sure of what work will be needed to fix it.
“We will be closing one lane down sometime this week,” said Faley. “It’s a safety concern. We don’t know what the scope of that work is. We will have a one-lane road for maybe three to four months. It’s a very concerning slide. It is probably latent damage from Irene. We thought we had it last year, but it isn’t going to work, so we have to address that.”
Regarding winter road conditions, Flynn said the state spent $40 million this past winter on ice and snow management.
“We are tasked with trying to be as frugal as we can be, providing the safest roads we can provide,” said Flynn. Several meeting attendees urged VTrans to get out earlier, use more materials such as salt and sand, and be more proactive with winter weather events.
The winter weather discussion seemed to be somewhat truncated, though, due to the public’s general interest in the plans for re-paving.
“It’s not winter anymore,” said Wilmington Selectboard member Ann Manwaring. “We’re all here because of Route 100.”