Letter to the editor: New truck route would boost city

The following letter was written by Adam Lougee of the Addison County Regional Planning Commissions to Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn.
On June 12, 2019 the Addison County Regional Planning Commission passed a resolution expressing our support for construction of a new road to the north of the Vergennes downtown that would allow through-truck traffic to avoid the downtown without unduly burdening their transit (the Economic Corridor). A similar resolution was also passed by our Transportation Advisory Committee in May.
The Route 22A corridor is an important link connecting the Route 4 corridor in New York with Chittenden County. Compared to other major routes in the region, it has higher rates of traffic growth. The VTrans Redbook anticipates overall traffic growth of 11 percent by design year 2043, and a 50 percent increase in truck traffic.
The Addison County Regional Plan calls for an investigation of options for a signed alternate route for trucks with an alternate route being one option to consider. Over the course of the past year, VTrans, ACRPC, Vergennes and its surrounding communities have participated in a study conducted by Stantec, the engineering firm the stakeholder’s hired to lead the process, to evaluate and document current conditions, evaluate potential alternatives and make recommendations.
The resolutions referenced above, and attached hereto for your convenience, support our studies’ conclusions. Key findings of the study, which can be viewed at tinyurl.com/Verg-corridor, are explained briefly below.
The critical role 22A plays in the movement of goods and people through the western part of Vermont comes at a cost to the City of Vergennes. Vergennes’s 200-plus year heritage is visible in the striking architecture of the historic buildings that line Main Street. Main Street is a regional shopping and dining destination featuring a city green surrounded by an eclectic mix of businesses and sidewalk cafes.
Vergennes experiences significantly higher volumes of daily truck traffic than nearly all comparably sized communities. The vibrancy of the downtown and further business development is hampered by the rumbling of large trucks up and down the steep grade that leads from downtown to the Otter Creek. Building facades are located within 30 feet of the edge of the travelled way. Outdoor dining occurs within this 30-foot band at several restaurants. Through-truck traffic detracts from the dining experience and small-town feel and causes vibrational damage to buildings.
Trucks also degrade traffic flow within Vergennes’s downtown. The downtown hosts two signalized and two unsignalized major intersections along with numerous lesser intersections and numerous private driveways. Both of the major unsignalized intersections operate at Level of Service D or worse, and the level of service is anticipated to decline as truck traffic increases.
An alternative route through and around town would improve access to key employers in Vergennes. The two largest employers in Vergennes currently are the Northlands Job Corps on Macdonough Street and Collins Aerospace on Panton Road. An alternative route would allow employees, clients, and deliveries to access these institutions from the north as well as from the south. In addition, there are large undeveloped parcels on Panton Road currently zoned industrial that would be more attractive to potential developers with better access to roads.
The existing downtown route does not serve trucks well either, because it fails to meet design criteria for a minor arterial roadway. A standard cross section for a minor arterial should have minimum 11-foot wide lanes with four-foot wide shoulders. In the downtown, lane widths meet state standards, however shoulders are either too narrow or non-existent.
Main St. in Vergennes includes a grade of 11.4 percent from the Otter Creek to Macdonough Drive. With a City speed limit of 25 mph, the grade exceeds design standards for rolling terrain in a village setting for a minor arterial. As a result, numerous trucks and even passenger cars have been unable to climb this hill. The situation is particularly acute in winter, though problems are not limited to one season. When trucks cannot navigate the hill, cars and other trucks back up and City police are dispatched from other important work to direct traffic. The Economic Corridor could be constructed to be completely compliant with design standards and avoid the disruption to trucks, residents, and emergency services.
The proposed Economic Corridor around Vergennes will improve the economic condition of downtown Vergennes and the region because it will be designed to remove the trucks, but not the passenger vehicles and people, from downtown Vergennes, improve the quality of life for Vergennes residents, improve access to major employers outside the downtown, and provide a route for trucks that meets road standards.
In addition, the Economic Corridor would create redundancy in options for crossing the Otter Creek and increase resiliency in the event of catastrophe. Under the existing condition, the closest alternative Otter Creek crossing is 6 miles south of Vergennes. Infrastructure failure, an accident, hazardous spill, or fire at one of the buildings along the current bridge would require a time-consuming detour for emergency vehicles.
Through the study undertaken jointly by VTrans and ACRPC, we worked with all potentially impacted communities to gather their input. At the final presentation of the study at the Vergennes Opera House a crowd of nearly one hundred people, including many TAC representatives and other representatives of neighboring communities, the community overwhelmingly supported the studies’ conclusions. Accordingly, we can state that the Addison County Region stands in full support of constructing an Economic Corridor around the Vergennes downtown. ACRPC stands ready to continue our work with VTrans to pursue the design and construction of this alternative. Please let us know how we can work together to further this project within VTrans’ priority system.
Adam Lougee
Executive Director
on behalf of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission

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