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Editorial: State must change process on fixing hazardous roads

The recent public effort to fix a dangerous stretch of road on Route 125 just west of Middlebury College campus is a call to action that the towns of Middlebury, Cornwall and Bridport should doggedly pursue — with an eye for setting a new state precedent.
The dangerous section of road involves a sudden rise in the road over a rocky knoll that causes an unlikely blind spot in what is an otherwise straight section of highway just across the Middlebury town-line into Cornwall. Several fatalities have resulted from that “blind” spot over the years, including the recent death of 44-year-old Deanne Rubright of Shoreham last month, an incident that has sparked this latest effort to “fix” the problem.
What shouldn’t happen is raising the issue, only to have the Agency of Transportation bury it in a pile of projects to get around to when they have the time and money. No doubt similar concerns were raised back in 2002, when two adults, including a mother and her twin unborn babies, and a young daughter, were killed in a two-car collision in that same vicinity.
To prevent the project from once again fading into obscurity, the three towns — along with Middlebury College, which has joined in the appeal — could take two proactive steps: first, inform the AOT they are not going to let the matter slip off their radar, but they are going to be a thorn in the AOT’s side until the matter is addressed; secondly, and more constructively, they could pursue a cost analysis of what it might take to fix the problem and present that, along with any help they might offer. The proposed solution would likely require blasting into rock ledge to lower the knoll, eliminating the blind spot. This could cost those towns a little money, but it would show the AOT good faith and that the towns were serious in their pursuit of a timely solution.
The problem is one of process and ranking of priorities.
The state has a never-ending list of projects to attend to because roads and bridges need continual repair and replacement. Priorities are placed on high-traffic areas, conditions of the road, safety and where projects rank on the state’s to-do list. Unfortunately, that to-do list can extend 10-15-20 years out.
To that end, the Vermont Agency of Transportation needs a better method to rank hazardous sections of road that need to be fixed in the short-term — not decades later. Why is it not state policy that sections of road deemed hazardous take priority over other projects? And if they do, why are sites like the one on Route 125 allowed to linger without a proposed solution? Perhaps a two-or-three year time frame to completion for such sections should become standard.
It is, in short, not acceptable that Middlebury selectboard members at their meeting Tuesday night, take the attitude — however grudgingly — that any fix will be “years” down the road and perhaps the better short-term answer is to employ intermediary measures to slow traffic, or alert drivers to the potential danger, or do anything other than fix the problem. (See story on Page 1A.) Rather, the selectboard could take the attitude that unreasonable delay is not OK, and that it is their responsibility to push for a better process and a better result.
What they would find is that they’re not alone. Communities across the state have similar sections of road that are notorious for accidents, and the delay in getting such hazardous sections fixed is frustrating to all.
That’s good news and bad. The good news is that enough pressure from all these towns working together should be able to change state policy. The bad news is that a flood of projects would create an initial backlog of hazardous sites to work through. But it’s better to change a flawed process, and work through that hazardous list as quickly as possible, than continue muttering in frustration about a system that dooms us all to what will surely be more tragedy and heartbreak.

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