Opinion: City needs relief from truck traffic
I would like to clarify some points made in this paper relative to the VT Route 22A/VT Route 17 Northerly Alternative Truck Route.
This proposal is very preliminary. It may offer a financially feasible, creative alternative to other extensive and costly truck route options. This proposal will need to meet local and state criteria and safety and technical transportation requirements. Certainly, there are drawbacks concerning intersections, grades and bridge adequacy, but this route has served thousand of trucks over decades without serious incident. Important issues will have to be dealt with according to current transportation specifications by VTrans. However, this is only a one-way truck route. The costs of these necessary upgrades should be considerably less than other alternatives.
Concerns about the impact of truck route on Addison County Field Days and bicycle and safety impacts need to be realistically considered. The number of days that the Field Days facility is open is minimal relative to the 365-day hardship that Main Street in Vergennes endures. Similarly, the actual bicycle count on Main Street in Vergennes has to be considerately higher than VT Route 17. Bicycle touring companies use our city green and downtown as a focal point from May to October.
Arguments about fuel use and increased gas emissions have merit but should not take precedent over the more pressing safety and local economic issues. Macro arguments for local issues do not serve the public well. It is doubtful that this proposal will be deleterious to the movement of goods and services in the western Vermont transportation corridor. A 1.7 percent increase in mileage on an Albany-to-Burlington round trip should not have substantial financial impact.
Numerous studies support the transportation network that includes VT Route 22A. The city of Vergennes is not asking for a two-way bypass that shunts all truck traffic through Addison, Waltham and New Haven. It is very important to note that we are willing to host our fair share of trucks. Supporting our proposal are numerous studies over a period of 20 years that conclude that truck traffic in downtown Vergennes is unsafe, has noxious effects and is damaging to the local economy.
The existing northerly route through Vergennes poses operational grade challenges for large trucks. According to the Truck Network Improvements Constraint Prioritization cited by VHB Inc., the “vertical grade on Main Street significantly exceeds the current standards and the recommended standards.” Trucks stopping on this grade, particularly during the winter, cause dangerous situations for passenger vehicles and pedestrians.
Hundreds of trucks carrying hazardous materials including compressed natural gas travel along Main Street weekly. Our public safety officials do not have the specific training or equipment to handle a catastrophic hazardous material event potentially jeopardizing the lives of our residents.
In addition to rerouting trucks, this proposal would remove the single largest impediment when considering the possibility of installing a signaled intersection at the dangerous Main Street, South Water Street and Macdonough Drive intersection.
This proposal should be viewed as a viable alternative to the ever-increasing truck traffic coursing through downtown Vergennes. There is no question that individual property owners will be affected by this proposal. However, this decision should be made in the best interest of the majority of those affected, not a select few. Vergennes is the commercial center of northwestern Addison County. Citizens from surrounding towns use our downtown and our services. How many children and grandchildren cross our Main Street to go to the Bixby Library? How many people have had to stop their conversation on the Black Sheep patio because of engine brakes and downshifts? And how often have events the Vergennes Opera House been interrupted by truck noise?
The Vergennes economy is fragile. Business owners constantly share stories from citizens, guests, shoppers and tourists about the negative impact that large trucks have on our downtown and Main Street. Many letters have been submitted from local organizations, businesses, property owners and citizens supporting this proposal.
Please consider this proposal with the safety of the citizens of Vergennes and the Vergennes economy in mind. We have born the brunt of downshifting, air brakes, noise, pollution and safety concerns for more than four decades. It is time hear our story and act on it.
William D. Benton