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County roads improve, but more repairs sorely needed

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Agency of Transportation during the past four years has almost halved the number of Addison County roads classified as being in “very poor condition,” but state officials acknowledged on Tuesday that much more work remains to be done — particularly to portions of Routes 125, 74 and 73.
VTrans Deputy Secretary Sue Minter was among several state and local officials who toured Addison County roads on Tuesday to size up troublesome areas for future paving and repairs. Those folks then sat down with several local lawmakers, road commissioners, municipal leaders and regional planning officials to take stock in what they saw and determine how the work could be accomplished in a state with too few dollars to complete all the work that needs to be done.
“We want to make sure you know that we’re listening,” Minter told the group of around 20 who gathered at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission offices in Middlebury. “We want you to know we care a lot about the roads we are trying to get into safe condition.”
VTrans classifies Vermont’s roads in four categories, based on condition: Good, fair, poor or very poor. The agency’s goal is to ensure that no more than 25 percent of the roads under its jurisdiction fall into the “very poor” category. Minter noted 800 miles (25 percent) of the state’s roads are currently classified as being in poor condition.
In 2009, an estimated 56 percent of Addison County roads fell under the “very poor” heading. That percentage this year has dropped to around 32 percent. That is expected to drop to as low as 26 percent when road resurfacing projects already under way on Route 116 in Starksboro and Route 125 in Hancock are completed within the next few years.
“I think that is very significant,” said state Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, who helped organize Tuesday’s visit by VTrans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the economic stimulus act), state bonding and a recent decision to raise the Vermont gas tax have helped the state intensify its efforts to fix its aging roads, bridges and culverts.
But while heartening, that news comes as little solace to folks who drive certain stretches of Routes 125, 74 and 73. Specifically, Addison County’s Transportation Advisory Committee has prioritized:
•  Portions of Route 125 from the Champlain Bridge, through Bridport and Cornwall, to its intersection with Route 7 in Middlebury.
•  Route 74 from Lake Champlain, through Shoreham to its intersection with Route 30 in Cornwall.
•  Route 73 in Orwell to its intersection with Route 30 in Sudbury.
Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, was upbeat about the progress of the past four years, but vowed to press for additional road work during the next few years to make further progress in the county. Lanpher is a member of the House Transportation Committee.
“Regardless of progress, if you live, commute or have a business along a road in poor condition, I realize how much this impacts your life and all the statistics in the world cannot offer comfort,” Lanpher said. “It is understood that the desire going forward is to have Route 125 from the (Lake Champlain) Bridge to Middlebury be the next larger project, with Route 74 and Route 73 and Route 17 (the ‘Gap Road’) to follow.”
The poor condition of the roads is also forcing heavy truck traffic and commuter vehicles to use local roads as detours, according to Shoreham, Cornwall and Middlebury officials.
Minter and Chris Cole, VTransdirector of policy, planning and intermodal development, took notes and shared some late-breaking news of their own: Thanks to a delay in a previously scheduled road project in the Northeast Kingdom, VTrans will be able to divert funds to re-pave (this fall) a 4.8-mile portion of Route 125 extending east from the Champlain Bridge.
“You should see activity there within a month,” Minter said.
Unfortunately, Minter could not promise swift attention to the county’s other identified trouble spots. VTrans can do paving overlay for around $80,000 to $100,000 per mile on state road projects that don’t receive federal funding. VTrans earmarks around $6 million annually to such work statewide, according to Minter.
“Yours are not the only communities we are hearing from,” Minter said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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