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Vergennes City Council backs truck route plan

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council on Tuesday agreed to make a formal resolution to support an alternate route that would take through truck traffic out of the city’s downtown and send it along a new road through northern Vergennes that could be built in 15 years.
Vermont Agency of Transportation officials and traffic consultants have recommended as their top option a $39 million road that would, heading north, run from Route 22A/West Main Street near the Panton line, cross Otter Creek on a new bridge, and rejoin Route 22A/North Main Street not far north of the Vergennes police station.
Tentative plans call for roundabouts at either end, stop signs at the Panton Road and Comfort Hill intersections, and a requirement that through trucks use the road.
At the same time, officials said, the journey would be a little longer in distance and time, and passenger vehicles would thus be encouraged to stay on Main Street and drive through downtown.
Council members agreed that Vergennes City Manager Matt Chabot should draft a resolution expressing the city’s strong support for the in-city alternate truck route, with the expectation they will sign it at their April 23 meeting. The council will then forward it to VTrans officials and legislators.
State and local officials cite the economic benefits to downtown of removing 98 percent of the 500 tractor-trailer units that rumble through Vergennes daily. Overall, there are about 800 trucks, including smaller rigs, and about six an hour carry hazardous materials.
They also said at a well-attended April 2 forum at the Vergennes Opera House that the new road could open up now empty land in northern Vergennes for development, adding to the city’s tax base and economic activity.
Chabot told the more than 100 gathered at the April 2 forum that Morrisville has seen benefits along those lines since the 2014 construction there of an alternate truck route.
Vergennes officials insisted on April 2 and on this Tuesday the proposed road should not be called a bypass, but rather be referred to with words that emphasize its potential as an economic development tool, something they believe will help convince VTrans to fund the project.
“It is the Vergennes Economic Corridor,” said Chabot at the council meeting, adding a mock warning: “Anyone who refers to it as a bypass has to write a check for $10,000.”
Residents at the April forum unanimously backed the alternate route through northern Vergennes. They also rejected the $23 million option of upgrading Route 17 through Addison and New Haven, an upgrade that would allow through trucks to connect with Route 7 in New Haven. The study showed no overall economic benefits when considering the devaluing of properties along that route.
Mayor Jeff Fritz on Tuesday said that route “has been tabled.”
The other choice studied, known as Option A, included upgrades to the existing route. Many of those improvements will be incorporated into the 2020 end-to-end repaving of Route 22A/Main Street already scheduled.
Proposed upgrades include installing bike lanes and possibly widening the roadway on either side of the downtown, and within the downtown area between the Otter Creek bridge and Monkton Road improving crosswalks with build-outs and texturized pavement, creating visual road medians at intersections, and striping bike lanes.
Chabot said on Tuesday the downtown changes remained the city’s priority, but that city officials hoped all the work, estimated at $1.9 million, could be included in next year’s project.
“We have a very aggressive ask for Option A,” he said.
In the meantime officials are also working to drum up regional support for an alternate truck route through what is an area hub of commerce. Chabot and Fritz have booked May 21 dates with the New Haven and Ferrisburgh selectboards to seek their backing for the project, and they said they have already reached out to Panton and Waltham.
Regional planning and state officials at the April 2 forum said widespread local support would be critical in persuading VTrans to fund and build the truck route.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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