Advisory committee rejects truck detour plan for Barre
BARRE — Theirs won’t be the last word on the subject, but members of a citizens’ committee that was tasked with evaluating a downtown truck bypass believe it is time to steer big rigs back on to Barre’s newly rebuilt North Main Street.
With a City Council-approved 30-day trial period about to expire, members of the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee agreed this week they’d seen and heard enough to recommend against making the temporary truck route on Summer Street permanent.
The committee arrived at its conclusion following the third in a series of public meetings involving an idea that is widely supported by downtown merchants and vehemently opposed by many who live, work and own property on Summer Street.
The latter group has been far more vocal and that was true again on Wednesday night when the committee picked up where it left off last week — taking testimony on an idea that failed to gain any traction on the panel whose members arrived ready to reject it.
One, Paul Beyor, came armed with a four-page opinion that the committee agreed to tweak and submit to city councilors who will ultimately decide the question later this month.
Beyor, who lives in Barre Town and works for the state Agency of Transportation, read his opinion from start to finish, hammering home some of the points that have been repeatedly raised by those opposed to a bypass, which essentially diverts heavy truck traffic off North Main Street and on to Summer Street using Elm Street on one end and Maple Avenue on the other.
In Beyor’s view, it would be a mistake to turn Summer Street into a permanent truck route. North Main Street, he said, was specifically designed to handle the pounding of heavy truck traffic, features newly enhanced pedestrian-friendly amenities, and doesn’t require drivers of large trucks to take four 90-degree turns on their way through the city.
According to Beyor, the upside of the truck route — a more tranquil downtown — is speculative at best, while the downside has been reflected in the testimony of those who have argued that the bypass raises serious safety concerns while transferring nuisances, including noise and truck exhaust, from the city’s central business district to their mixed-use neighborhood.
“Each time I observed traffic flow along the route and could not convince myself that the Summer Street truck route had any absolute advantage over allowing trucks to utilize (North) Main Street,” Beyor said, reading from the opinion that he drafted following multiple trips to Summer Street over the course of the past month.
“I believe transferring the diesel smell and noise to the more residential area on Summer Street is not beneficial to the city or the community in general,” he added. “The underlying safety considerations along Summer Street make for a very unfavorable mix of pedestrians and trucks... Hopefully the safety of the citizens will take priority over a speculated environmental improvement on (North) Main Street.”
Beyor’s statement, which will be modified to reflect that it is the collective view of the committee before being submitted to the council, provoked a hearty round of applause from more than a dozen people who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Most of those people have property interests that would be directly affected if the Summer Street bypass is made permanent. However, there were a couple of notable exceptions, including the woman who runs a North Main Street arts center and the Northfield lawyer who represents the Vermont Truck & Bus Association. Both Sue Higby, executive director of Studio Place Arts, and Ed Miller, the VTBA’s lawyer, spoke against the proposed truck route.
Though Miller’s testimony was fairly predictable, Higby’s was something of a surprise.
According to Higby, while downtown Barre has its issues she doesn’t believe trucks are one of them.
“I don’t think the detour is a good idea,” she said. “I actually am here to say: ‘We need to share (North) Main Street with trucks.’”
That opinion is at odds with most downtown merchants, who believe Summer Street worked well as a construction detour when North Main Street was impassable for most of this year and could continue to function as a designated truck route.
However, Higby argued that is a “narrow-minded view,” which ignores Barre’s rich history as a “working city.”
“People have forgotten or are sidestepping the fact that Barre is Barre and that there’s something that we have to accept and embrace about being an industrial and a manufacturing city,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to me to be hiding the trucks that are part of our identity.”
According to Higby, forcing large trucks to use a route that is home to two churches, a church-run school, and a funeral home, as well as a mix of small businesses and apartment houses was “ridiculous.”
“That’s a fairly fragile population over on Summer Street and I think that they deserve better,” she said.
Miller sounded a similar theme during his brief remarks, suggesting it was “completely unfair and probably illegal” to force large trucks off a section of federal highway that doubles as North Main Street in Barre and through a partly residential neighborhood.
“In my mind you’re really doing a disservice to the people on Summer Street,” he said, noting those residents and business owners had no reason to believe their street could be turned into a designated truck route after North Main Street was reopened to through traffic.
According to Miller, the same can be said of his client.
“I think you’re doing a disservice to the trucking industry... by redirecting traffic from a U.S. highway that is built to take that traffic to a residential neighborhood,” he said.
Committee members heard from others, including Summer Street resident Mariette Mitchell and Maple Avenue residents Ken and Lorette Baraw, before opening what proved to be a very brief deliberation.
Beyor — a skeptic when the idea was first proposed — said nothing he’d observed over the past month had changed his mind, and committee members Frank Demell and Real Maurice quickly agreed with his assessment.
Demell argued truck traffic was part of having a bustling downtown.
“Keep all the trucks on (North) Main Street,” he said. “It is the noise that creates the atmosphere. It’s the hubbub that you want. All that racket. It’s a live community it’s not dead. If you want it to sound like a cemetery go up to Hope Cemetery and sit around for awhile and see what it sounds like.”
Chairman Fred Ford said the committee would finalize its recommendation in coming days and City Manager Steve Mackenzie said he planned to put it on the agenda for the Nov. 27 meeting of the City Council.
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