Dangerous junction gets traffic light at last

FERRISBURGH — After months of delays, Agency of Transportation officials now say traffic lights at a problematic Route 7 intersection in North Ferrisburgh should be activated within a matter of weeks.

VTrans first confirmed plans for installing lights at the intersection of Route 7 with Stage and Old Hollow roads in late spring 2019, saying it would take a couple of years to study, design and install the project.

On March 16, 2021, VTrans emailed Selectboard Chair Jessica James and North Ferrisburgh resident Judy Chaves, stating the agency had hired Don Weston Excavating Inc. to do the work, and the company was “getting ready to start work this summer,” and was “optimistic they will be able to meet their completion date of October 15th.”

Now VTrans Project Manager Taylor Sisson is projecting a new timetable. In a Wednesday email to James, among others, Sisson wrote:

“After coordinating with the utility company and the contractor yesterday, our plan is to have the utility moved by this Friday and have the contractor resume work the week of May 16. We expect that there are a few weeks’ worth of work remaining to complete the signal.”

A series of emails among VTrans, Ferrisburgh Road Foreman John Bull, Chaves, James, and residents Diane Gottlieb and Rayne Herzog show a series of problems that have delayed work on the intersection.

VTrans cited COVID-19 and uncooperative weather and utility companies. Sisson wrote this to Herzog on April 13:

“Unfortunately, neither Comcast nor Waitsfield Telecom moved their utility lines as of Monday, the 11th, as we instructed. Waitsfield Telecom was waiting for Comcast to move their utility first, but is now going to be meeting with a subcontractor tomorrow to discuss some relocation options to bypass Comcast to get this work done more quickly.”

Frustration on the Ferrisburgh end is evident in emails, including discussion of passing up complaints higher up the chain of command. Attendees at the Tuesday selectboard meeting suggested petitioning representatives, with James noting they were copied on the email chain.

The dissatisfaction is magnified because residents and town officials lobbied for years for the lights before they were finally promised in 2019.

VTrans’s own research revealed 21 crashes at that intersection in the five years leading up to a January 2019 forum in Ferrisburgh at which the agency pledged to install either traffic lights or a roundabout, with the majority of the roughly 70 residents there favoring lights.

Residents at the meeting complained about the difficulty of getting onto Route 7 from the side roads and expressed concerns about the safety of pedestrians and the many cyclists who pass through the intersection. By spring of 2019, VTrans agreed and set plans for lights in motion.

But this week the lights were still not powered up. Diane Gottlieb put a personal appeal in an email to the agency and local officials on Tuesday morning. Four years ago she and her husband were seriously injured in a horrific accident at the intersection, she worse than her husband.

“My back, sternum and ribs were broken. My neck was fractured. Charlie had a broken leg. We celebrated our 50th anniversary at Fanny Allen rehab. We are lucky to be alive,” wrote Gottlieb, who also spoke to the selectboard on Tuesday.

“I spent most of the summer on the first floor of our home in a hospital bed with the help of professional aides. I also suffered severe vertigo. With perseverance and amazing support, I regained my ability to function and live a healthy and active life. I will have lifelong pain where my back was broken.”

Sisson responded:

“We are all working very hard to coordinate the completion, but there have been a number of things outside of our and the utility company’s control that have caused this delay — sickness, weather, etc.”

That brought an answer from Diane Gottlieb: “I understand that weather, COVID and health might interfere with the completion of this project. I just do not want anyone else to have to suffer from another crash.”

Bull emailed some sympathy for VTrans, citing his experience working with some of the same issues, and also offered hope for the work to be completed:

“Dealing with the utilities is always an issue. In this climate with COVID it has magnified an already slow process. Hopefully with a sign of better weather this project will move forward,” the road foreman wrote.

“I am also sure Taylor and his team are also doing all they can to move this along. We have to remember that we are dealing with large utilities without ties to our community. So fingers crossed that we will see some action soon!”

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