Barre truck route gets gets further scrutiny
BARRE — A citizens committee that has been asked to evaluate whether and under what conditions Summer Street could safely function as a designated truck route didn’t make any headway on that central question this week.
Instead, members of the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee spent nearly 90 minutes listening to comments — most of them critical and few of them safety-related — about the truck route, which is in the middle of a 30-day test period ordered by the City Council.
Of interest to the council is whether a route that successfully served for eight months as the detour while North Main Street was under construction should continue to function in that capacity for large trucks that are just passing through the city.
Downtown merchants, who were otherwise occupied while the committee was taking its second round of testimony Wednesday night, overwhelmingly agree that the city’s newly made-over central business district would benefit if the truck route were made permanent.
However, that idea predictably doesn’t appeal to many of those who live and own properties and businesses along Summer Street — a fact that was again in evidence Wednesday night.
More than 15 people attended the hearing, and most made it clear they don’t believe Summer Street — and to a lesser extent Elm Street and a portion of Maple Avenue — should be permanently saddled with a burden that has historically been borne by North Main Street.
What is far less clear is how those quality-of-life concerns, which range from lost parking to increased noise, will factor into the committee’s review and recommendation to the council.
Many have argued — and did again Wednesday night — that the route is far from optimal, though even some of its more vocal detractors concede there are ways it could be improved. Lowering the curb height at the intersections at both ends of Summer Street would be a tire-saving start, according to Roland Bellavance, owner of Bellavance Trucking.
Others have suggested that moving the “Stop” bars painted on the pavement at both of those intersections could resolve conflicts involving turning trucks.
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said those “legitimate concerns” would almost certainly be addressed if the truck route gains traction.
Mackenzie freely accepts both the credit and the blame for first floating what he viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way truck traffic flows through Barre.
He rejected one resident’s suggestion that the council had already made up its mind and the trial period and committee meetings were just for show.
“I’m as convinced as I can be that this is not a done deal,” he said.
Even if the council agrees it would like to make the truck route permanent, it would first have to obtain permission from the state transportation secretary.
Though there were several new faces in the audience, the committee didn’t hear many concerns that weren’t aired during a more balanced discussion two weeks ago.
Safety, the committee was told, is a paramount concern, though most who spoke talked about the inconvenience of the loss of on-street parking to accommodate the detour, noise tied to grinding gears and “Jake brakes,” and maintenance costs that would be incurred due to the pounding Summer Street would take if the truck route is permanent.
“I can’t imagine what Summer Street is going to look like after a really wet summer,” said Bob Chartier, who lives in Orange but owns an apartment house on Summer Street.
Chairman Fred Ford said he wasn’t certain the committee should consider speculative concerns about the cost of future road maintenance.
“The entire city is not built to take the traffic that’s on it today,” Ford said. “We have to live with what we have, repair what we can, and replace to better standards that which fails when it does fail.”
Susan Ladieux, who has lived in an apartment at the corner of Summer Street and Maple Avenue for nine years, said dealing with noise generated by trucks taking that turn for the last nine months has been exasperating.
“The quality of life is not so great,” she said. “It’s really, really loud and crazy, and I thought it would be over … when Main Street opened.”
Others in the audience shared her concern that what they were assured would be a temporary inconvenience might now become permanent.
One indignant man said the noise problem has been most pronounced between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m.
“There isn’t even a store open on Main Street (at that time),” he said.
Leonard Normandeau, who once served on the committee and has operated a business on Summer Street since 1994, wasn’t as critical as some. He said the markings at the intersection of Summer Street and Maple Avenue should be adjusted and a severe fine should be imposed on truck drivers who use their “Jake brakes” in the city.
Normandeau urged a compromise that would allow trucks to travel on North Main Street during the late night and early morning hours, while forcing them to use Summer Street during the day and early evening when downtown businesses are open.
Normandeau did acknowledge that the volume of traffic on Summer Street has decreased considerably since North Main Street reopened.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Carl Hilton-VanOsdall all but endorsed the proposed truck route given ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Barre.
“It makes sense to have downtown be preserved in a way that’s pedestrian-friendly and can bring the vibrancy to Barre that we’re hoping becomes a part of our community,” he said.
Although Hilton-VanOsdall said he appreciated concerns expressed by others, from his perspective noise and other truck-related issues were not a problem.
“I don’t see a complication with the trucks being on the road,” he said.
Hilton-VanOsdall’s observations drew a prompt response from one resident who argued his opinion should be considered in context.
“(Hilton-VanOsdall) is there just Sundays for an hour during Mass,” the man said. “I’m talking people who are living there in that noise.”
According to Ford, the time for listening is almost over and a committee that has been feeling its way along what he characterized as a “backwards” process will need to start comparing notes and making decisions next week. Those decisions, he stressed, are merely advisory.
Mackenzie said the its recommendations will be an important part of the council’s decision-making.
In an effort to aid the committee, Mackenzie said a traffic counter has been installed on Summer Street and has already generated a week’s worth of useful data including the size, speed and volume of vehicles traveling the street.
Mackenzie assured the committee that he and City Engineer Reg Abare would start crunching those numbers and provide members with the data in advance of their meeting Wednesday.
The five-member committee is expected to use that data, their own observations and professional experience, as well as comments from the public, in crafting a recommendation.
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