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VTrans, Ferrisburgh support Route 7 traffic lights

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard and more than 30 residents at a Tuesday meeting at the town office building backed a plan to install traffic lights and a crosswalk at the intersection of Route 7 with Old Hollow and Stage roads.
Vermont Agency of Transportation officials estimated it would cost about $500,000, which they say federal funds would pay for because the project would address safety concerns.
North Ferrisburgh residents have for years been lobbying for traffic signals at the problematic intersection, and a VTrans study conducted late last year confirmed they were right — it uncovered 21 crashes in the area in the past five years. State transportation officials earlier this year launched another study to examine whether traffic lights or a roundabout would be the best solution at the intersection, which handles about 11,000 vehicles a day. This second study concluded $500,000 traffic lights and not a $3.5 million roundabout offered the best answer.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the selectboard — to applause from a crowd that also clapped for the VTrans recommendation of traffic lights — unanimously backed a motion, in Chairman Rick Ebel’s words, “to approve the alternative of using signals at the intersection to give the green light, if you will, to VTrans to take the next steps.”
VTrans project manager Erin Parizo at the meeting summarized the study and offered a hopeful timetable for installation.
“There is definitely a need,” Parizo said. “We think two years is a reasonable estimate.”
The preliminary VTrans design includes left-turn lights and lanes for both southbound and northbound traffic on Route 7, with four lights in all facing Route 7 motorists headed in either direction.
Drivers approaching Route 7 from the east on Old Hollow Road or from the west on Stage Road will see a pair of lights, but no specific left-turn light, said Parizo and fellow VTrans engineer Karen Sentoff.
Parizo added that the signals will have sensors that can adjust wait times if traffic is heavier on the main highway or on the side roads, and those sensors can be tweaked if necessary after a few weeks or months to further “prioritize traffic that is actually there at the moment.”
The crosswalk will span Route 7 on the south side of the intersection and offer an on-demand button that will stop traffic. The preliminary project design also includes short stretches of sidewalk approaching the crosswalk from the south side of Old Hollow Road and from the businesses on the west side of Route 7.
The VTrans officials said the crosswalk could only be built if Ferrisburgh agreed to maintain those sidewalks. Although the town does not now own the equipment to do so, both Ebel and Road Foreman John Bull said the town would meet that obligation.
“We do already have a solution. We have shovels,” Ebel joked. “On a serious level, given the two-year time frame, we certainly can start working on it.”
The project will include conduits under the side roads. These conduits will allow wiring to be installed more easily in the future, the VTrans officials said.
In response to questions about why additional crosswalks were not added immediately, the officials said doing so would have delayed the project in order to obtain needed rights-of-way.
“This design is not preventing any crosswalks from being installed in the future,” Parizo added.
Sentoff presented the pluses and minuses of the signalization and a roundabout, which she said would be 130 feet in diameter. Residents had also panned the roundabout in a Jan. 15 public feedback meeting.
According to research Sentoff presented the roundabout option had at least slight advantages in traffic safety and operations.
ROUNDABOUT DRAWBACKS
But, she said, building the roundabout would not only be more costly but also have a major impact on the public utilities in the area, such as moving power poles. A roundabout would also create the need to purchase rights-of-way, a time-consuming as well as expensive prospect. It would also mean VTrans would almost surely have to deal with hazardous materials in the gas station in the intersections northwest corner.
In addition to the $3 million more in cost, the process could take five years, Sentoff said.
Building a roundabout would also mean major disruption to the travel corridor, and the cost-benefit ratio to the marginal improvement in safety from a roundabout was not favorable, Sentoff said.
“The roundabout is an expensive option, so we don’t really win out on the effectiveness of reducing crashes here,” Sentoff said, adding, “For all those reasons that’s why we’re hoping to move forward in that direction (signals).”
Parizo said while the project is in the pipeline, VTrans would work with law enforcement to have speed carts displayed at times between June and September to slow traffic and improve safety.
In response to a question about whether the signals would help drivers exit from local businesses, such as Cookie Love, Parizo said, “It will be a lot more clear where your gaps will be.”
The traffic lights, when built, will not be the first in recent memory along the Route 7 corridor. VTrans installed signals at Route 7’s intersection with Little Chicago and Middlebrook roads in 2016, and within the past couple of decades at its intersections with Route 22A and Monkton Road.
Heading further north, the lights in Charlotte at Route 7’s intersection with Church Hill and Ferry roads are of relatively recent vintage, as are those in Shelburne where Route 7 meets Marsett and Bostwick roads.
Parizo said in a Wednesday morning email that it is not completely certain that the northernmost intersection of Route 7 in Ferrisburgh will join that list, but it sounded likely.
“We are moving forward into the design phase for signalizing that intersection,” she wrote. “So while I always hesitate to say 100 percent, it is advancing into design and we anticipate construction within a few years.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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