Between the Lines: A roundabout look at the summer

Summer ephemera:
The most remarkable thing about the new Middlebury roundabout that links Main Street, College Street and the Cross Street bridge is how unremarkable it has turned out to be.
After years of planning and debating and figuring out how to pay for the roundabout and bridge, the new traffic alignment has proved to work well — so well in fact that it’s quickly gone from being a novelty to an everyday feature of driving life.
The bridge itself is a not-so-small marvel, leaping gracefully over Otter Creek to uneventfully shuttle a steady stream of vehicles between Court Street and Main. And the roundabout has proven an even more efficient part of the process than the cumbersome traffic light at Court and Cross streets.
It’s true of the roundabout that, as at least one letter writer to this paper has noted, tall grasses placed there by overly ambitious landscapers once obscured part of the driver’s view. But those grasses have been chopped down, leaving clear views and clear sailing for drivers.
The problematic parts of the new traffic design continue to be the traffic lights both on Court Street and at the intersection of South Main and Academy streets.
Initially the timing of the Academy Street light was set so long that as one waited to turn from Academy onto Main there was plenty of time to place a couple of lengthy cell phone calls and feel one’s digestion go bad with aggravation.
Either I’ve grown used to that long wait or the lights have been adjusted, because it’s rarely as problematic these days.
Moreover, whoever fiddles with the light seems to have thought it would be a good idea to occasionally try using flashing red lights (on Academy) and flashing yellow lights (on Main). If nothing else, that occasional change serves to keep drivers alert as they approach the intersection, never knowing quite what to expect.
Another, entirely intended and highly satisfactory result of the new bridge and roundabout has been to ease traffic at the old chokepoint of Merchants Row and Main Street. But as demonstrated by an egregiously unfortunate accident at the intersection earlier this month, that juncture can still be a perilous place for pedestrians.
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Downtown Middlebury has also experienced new traffic pressures from the relocation of the ambulance service. Previously located out near North Pleasant Street (Route 7) on Elm Street, the ambulances and their crews are now based near Porter Hospital. There may be good reasons for this relocation, given how many people who are transported by the ambulance end up at the hospital. But for those who live and do business in that part of town, the relocation has meant a striking amount of new traffic through the roundabout.
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Ouch Department: When President Obama made a recent bus tour of the Midwest meant to show his commitment to creating more jobs for Americans, someone dug up the provenance of the bus itself. According to news reports, it turns out the bus was manufactured not by Americans but made north of Vermont, in Québec.
Spring and summer always offer surprises to those of us who enjoy the local rivers, given that the floods of winter and spring floods bring inevitable changes. But few recent springs have brought so many changes as this year’s did on stretches of the New Haven River.
At one swimming spot, for example, what used to be a nice broad stone beach on the north side of the river was relocated by the spring torrents into an island with two arms of the river encircling it.
The good news for fisherman: There seem to be many more small fry in the river this summer, perhaps portending better fishing in the years ahead.
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If you have any doubts about the continuing fertility of the Champlain Valley and the efficacy of modern fertilizers, take a look at that vast sea of corn growing on the west side of Route 7 in Salisbury. It looks like it stretches to the Adirondacks.
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Does the water in the Middlebury Gorge ever get warm? Every spring I tell myself that the frigid dips of June there will be replaced by the warm revelries of August. But the Middlebury River, cascading freshly out of the mountains, never really does warm up until it’s out on the plains of Salisbury.
In the meantime, the water in the gorge offers immediate cooling that lasts longer than any air conditioning. Just try dipping your body in it for 10 minutes. It’ll make you want to go have a cup of cocoa and a nice hot shower.
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If anyone wants to start a petition that makes it illegal to use a power lawn mower on Sunday morning in a residential neighborhood, I’ll be the first one to sign it.
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When Rep. Peter Welch was in Middlebury a couple of weeks ago for a meet-and-greet at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café, he told a story about a recent conversation he had with a high-profile colleague, Rep. Michele Bachmann (she of the Tea Party, “I don’t care if we do default on our debts” persuasion).
Bachmann and Welch came into the Congress at the same time, in 2006. Members of the same congressional class typically form a tighter bond than their other counterparts in Congress, Welch explained. He and several of his colleagues were recently joking with Bachmann about all the special favors they wanted if her quest for the presidency succeeds.
Most of Welch’s colleagues were jokingly asking her for lots of goodies such as an overnight stay at the White House. He said that he couldn’t resist saying to her, “Michelle, I want just one thing.” When she asked what that was, Welch, ever the good liberal responded, “single-payer health care.”
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Bumper Sticker of the Month: “There is no ‘I’ in Frends.”
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at E-mail him at [email protected].

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