Opinion: Residents criticize truck traffic plan
Editor’s note: The following was written as an open letter to Vermont Agency of Transportation Director Christopher Cole. The writers live on VT 17 East.
We are writing in regard to the attached article titled “New idea pitched to cut city truck traffic” that was published in the Dec. 24, 2015, edition of the Addison Independent.
The article reports on an apparent proposal made to VTrans by the city of Vergennes to prohibit northbound through truck traffic on VT 22A, and further to require that all such traffic be permanently diverted to travel on VT 17 East and US 7 North. While we empathize with the residents and business owners of Vergennes regarding the issue of truck traffic, we believe that the current proposal is poorly considered, disregards decades of transportation planning, and is in our view illegal.
The article purports to present the “potential benefits of the Vergennes bypass” while completely failing to present any of the drawbacks of this proposal, of which there are many. Some of these include:
• Inadequate intersection geometry: The intersection of VT 22A and VT 17 East is not designed to accommodate large trucks (up to 72 feet in overall length), which currently travel VT 22A, a designated portion of the Vermont Commercial Vehicle Network. As a result, trucks turning right onto VT 17 East would need to swing wide into the southbound lane of oncoming traffic on VT 22A, and/or to occupy the westbound lane of VT 17 in order to make this turn. This would result in significant potential for head-on collisions, and danger to the traveling public on both highways.
• Steep grades: There are numerous sections of steep grades along VT 17 East which equal or exceed the 10 percent grade in Vergennes cited in the article that would be avoided. These grades would be problematic for continuous large truck travel.
• Otter Creek Bridge condition: The attached most recent VTrans structure inspection sheet (May 21, 2015) reveals several deficiencies with this existing structure. Of particular note is this comment: “Bridge is in need of extensive reconstruction or replacement with all components rated as fair.” The roadway width is only 20 feet, and there is a sharp curve on the east end of the structure, making regular travel by large trucks up to 72 feet in length problematic. It appears likely that such trucks, intended for travel on the Vermont Commercial Vehicle Network, could not negotiate this bridge without entering the oncoming traffic lane resulting in danger to the travelling public, with the potential for head on collisions with westbound traffic.
• Numerous curves: This segment of VT 17 has numerous curves, which would make accommodating such truck movements problematic, again, without resulting in trucks entering the oncoming traffic lane and resultant danger to the travelling public, with the potential for head-on collisions with westbound traffic at several locations.
• Limited sight distances: There are numerous locations at which there are limited sight distances for entering or exiting residential and business driveways, again creating a significant safety concern.
• Inadequate local road intersections: There are several intersections between this segment of VT 17 and existing local roads. A good example is the intersection with Hallock Road in New Haven, where an extremely limited sight distance to westbound traffic exists. This also presents a significant safety concern.
• Historic property impacts: There are numerous historic residential properties along this section of VT 17, which are potentially adversely impacted by this proposal. Such impacts would require careful assessment to ensure these impacts are not undue.
• Impacts to Addison County Field Days: In addition to the annual Field Days event, this site offers a variety of agriculturally themed events through the year. Such events would be potentially adversely impacted, both in terms of the overall character of the area, as well as the difficulty of access due to truck traffic.
• US 7 intersection challenges: The existing unsignalized intersection of VT 17 and US 7 would present a major challenge for left-turning truck traffic from VT 17, given the heavy main line traffic on US 7. Unlike the existing signalized intersection of VT 22A and US 7 just north of Vergennes, which is specifically designed (as part of the Vermont Commercial Vehicle Network) to accommodate such traffic.
• Difficult winter driving conditions: Given the road geometry described above and rural character of the area, winter driving during snow and ice events can be challenging on this segment of VT 17. It is not atypical to see several vehicles off the road during the course of a winter season. Adding a steady flow of large trucks intended for the Vermont Commercial Vehicle Network to this segment would create numerous safety concerns.
• Bicycle safety impacts: With recent improvements to this segment of VT 17, a narrow (approximately 2 feet paved, 1 foot gravel) shoulder on either side of the travelled lane has been added. As a result we have noted a substantial increase in bicycle travel during the warmer months. Adding a steady flow of large trucks intended for the Vermont Commercial Vehicle Network to this segment would discourage such usage and create numerous safety concerns.
• Increased fuel use: Requiring all northbound truck traffic on VT 22A to detour via VT 17 and US 7 would result in reduced efficiency of movement of goods and services, along with many thousands of gallons of increased consumption of motor fuels annually, and is therefore contrary to the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan (2011).
• Increased greenhouse gas emissions: Similarly, the increased truck vehicle miles traveled as a result of this proposal will result in reduced efficiency and greater emission of greenhouse gases, and is therefore contrary to the Vermont Climate Change Action Plan (2008).
Given the above, in our opinion these disadvantages cumulatively far outweigh the suggested benefits listed in the article.
In addition, VTrans and the federal government have made ongoing major investments in VT 22A for roadway and structure improvements over time, and undertaken numerous planning efforts which this proposal contravenes, including:
• Vermont Freight Plan (2015): Table 7.1 of this plan presents goals and recommendations, including a goal to “Improve access to regional suppliers and markets for Vermont shippers and receivers by enacting a series of infrastructure, operational and regulatory programs.” The companion recommendation to implement this goal is stated as: “Improve efficiency on major state highways, include US Routes 2, 4, and 7 and Vermont Routes 9, 22A and 103.”
• Vermont Highway System Policy Plan (2004): Page ES-5 of this plan discusses “a Primary state highway network which includes the National Highway System (NHS) and NHS lntermodal Connectors as well as additional routes include in Vermont’s designated Commercial Vehicle Network. This network serves the vast majority of freight and passenger travel in the State, and is of critical importance to the State’s economy.” VT 22A is included within this group of highways, through inclusion in the Commercial Vehicle Network.
• Vermont Western Corridor Transportation Management Plan (2010): This plan cites US 7 and VT 22A as the two main highways in the western Vermont corridor.
• Addison County Regional Transportation Plan (2008): Section 220.127.116.11.3 of the Regional Transportation Plan describes the Vermont Truck Network, as established by the Vermont Legislature. The only roads in Addison County that are part of this network are US 7 and VT 22A (entire length of both roads within Addison County)
From a statewide policy perspective, the idea that any individual municipality could simply request that all of these efforts be set aside in favor of a particular local preference would completely upset these multiple transportation planning efforts and investments that have occurred over many years involving many entities. The ultimate outcome of agreeing to such a request would be to destroy the state highway network, in favor of a patchwork of local dictates, with all of the associated disruption of the Vermont economy and communities.
Finally, given all of the above, we believe that such a request is not consistent with current statute, and at a minimum will require substantial engineering and environmental study, including full consideration of alternatives, and an open public process, before any decision on such a proposal is made. Therefore, we strongly recommend that VTrans reject this request by the city of Vergennes.
Jeffrey A. Nelson