Major Rt. 17 construction causing headaches

ADDISON/NEW HAVEN — For most of the summer, Route 17 between Addison and New Haven will be a bumpy ride.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) began a major rebuild of the 7.3 mile stretch in early June, and is slated to finish in mid-November. The $5.8 million project stretches from Route 7 to Route 22A, and began with shaving down the top several inches of road, revealing ruts and potholes beneath.
Some of the road is now gravel, but it’s still a problem for Diane Desmond of Addison, who said she’s had to reroute her daily drive to Bristol through Vergennes.
“It’s been just awful,” she said.
The project has also drawn the attention of Addison County Fair and Field Days officials, who have been in discussions with VTrans regarding road work during the fair, which runs Aug. 7 through 11.
Hoyne said VTrans currently plans to suspend most work for the week, doing grading and dust control as is necessary to handle the heavy traffic on the road.
Jim Foster, Field Days president, said those discussions have been smooth.
“(VTrans is) being very sympathetic and cooperative, and trying to minimize any impact to the fair,” said Foster.
And though he said it may take people a little longer to get to Field Days over the gravel road, he said he doesn’t expect it to deter traffic.
“It’s not going to be as pleasant of a driving experience,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s going to keep people away.”
VTrans construction engineer David Hoyne said the road was a priority when the agency was selecting its highway projects across the state this year. The entire seven mile stretch of road was in bad condition in 2008, when an agency survey ranked it as “very poor.”
For a project like this, said Hoyne, a simple repaving job wouldn’t have done the trick.
“Roads at times will reach a point where you need to do something more than just paving, because they get so out of shape,” he said. “We know in just repaving them that they’ll revert to that condition quickly.”
Instead, VTrans decided that the road needed a “reclaim” treatment. Hoyne said Pike Industries, the contractors assigned to the project, first ground down the first three or four inches of pavement, saving the material for filler once the road is built back up. Workers then chop the remaining pavement into rough gravel.
Hoyne said at the next stage crews will be able to correct banking on some of the turns and to smooth out some of the small ups and downs in the road.
The next stage, said Hoyne, is to lay a cement foundation over the gravel, forming a new base for the road. Crews can then bring back some of the material removed in the first stage to lay over the top of the concrete, after which point the road can be paved. As the project ends, crews will also install new guardrails and signs along the length of the road.
The cement base should be in place by early September, said Hoyne, bringing some relief to cars traveling over the rough gravel road. Following that, the project will wrap up later than its original completion date of November 3. Part of that, said Hoyne, is the week’s delay for Addison County Fair and Field Days.
Rep. Diane Lanpher said the Route 17 project is a significant one, since it was one of the major roads in need of repair in the county. But she said its condition was not an anomaly — 40 percent of Addison County roads are in poor or very poor condition. She said for other counties, this number runs closer to 25 percent or less.
“We are not in line with the standard of 25 percent,” said Lanpher. “We need to be asking, ‘What is it going to take to get us there?’”
Lanpher said other roads that lead from New York into Vermont are in bad condition, Route 125, 74 and 73 included. She said Route 22A is also in very poor condition, which is especially dangerous along a trucking route. This spring VTrans was able to pave a portion of the road through Bridport using money budgeted for winter maintenance, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Lanpher said her very rough estimate is that it could cost up to $64 million to repair all the Addison County roads that need repair, while the entire annual paving budget for Vermont is under $90 million. And at a time when federal money coming into the state is also in question, she said it’s going to be a financial struggle.
“We’re trying to do more with less,” said Lanpher.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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