Plainfield won’t take not yet’ for an answer on intersection
BARRE — After hearing from the state that fixes to Plainfield’s troubled intersection at Route 2 and Main Street could be many years down the road, local officials are looking for ways to force the issue and get action sooner.
The ideas include possible legislation and an appeal to the Vermont Agency of Transportation through one of its top officials.
The town hosted a public forum last week with the agency and the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission. Residents talked about their dangerous encounters at the intersection, where Main Street dips down into the village at a bend in Route 2 marked by a single blinking yellow light. Besides having poor sight lines, the slope on Main Street can be nearly impossible to navigate in winter due to ice and snow.
During the forum, Ken Robie, highway safety and design program manager for the Transportation Agency, said a problem intersection can be addressed for either of two reasons: if it has a high volume of car accidents or if the regional planning commission petitions the state. Robie said the intersection doesn’t have enough of a crash history to qualify on that count and that it is sixth out of six on the planning commission’s priority list.
Plainfield Road Commissioner Bram Towbin, who also serves on the Select Board, said Friday that he had thought residents’ testimony last week would have an impact on state officials.
“I guess it didn’t,” he said. Towbin added, there has been no indication from the state that it has changed its stance on the need to fix the intersection.
Robie did not return a request for comment Friday.
Towbin said there is a gulf between the history of crashes and how drivers actually experience the intersection. He said there are few crashes because people are so scared to drive through the intersection that they are extra careful.
Towbin used the analogy of a hypothetical bridge with no guardrails. He said drivers would be so cautious that there might not be any accidents on such a bridge for a decade.
“I don’t think that most people would consider that an acceptable situation for the community,” he said. “... To require a body count is really not the best approach to safety. I think we need a proactive approach that’s going to nip this problem in the bud and some outside of the box discussions.”
One possible solution he has proposed is legislation that would allow residents to have input on whether a problem road needs fixing quickly. In his scenario, 60 percent of a town’s residents, as well as the locally elected officials, would sign a petition seeking to have a specific road problem made a priority by the state.
“This intersection at Route 2 is the poster child for a need to reform funding. If a community is traumatized, and I do not use the word lightly, by a difficult situation, there needs to be a mechanism whereby that is reflected in the repair process,” Towbin said.
Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, who represents Plainfield and has been in communication with Towbin about the intersection, said Friday she hasn’t considered any legislation aimed at changing the way the state handles road projects, so she didn’t know how it might work or how successful it would be.
She did say she is very concerned about the intersection, which she called dangerous.
“It’s a harrowing experience to drive through it,” she said. “I feel that Plainfield is caught in a Catch-22. Because this intersection is so dangerous, people drive very carefully, and that means there haven’t been a lot of accidents, and that’s how VTrans decides on their priority list.”
Ancel said if it is determined legislation is needed to address the problem, she would entertain it. Either way, she wants to get the ball rolling.
Robie said last week that it would take two to 10 years to get the funding for an overhaul of the intersection, secure all the permits and do the work because Route 2 is a federal highway.
“If (the intersection) is going to take a long time to deal with, no matter what, the best thing to do is to get started,” Ancel said.
Steve Gladczuk, senior transportation planner at the regional planning commission, said Friday that even though the intersection is sixth on the commission’s priority list, it should move up quickly.
He said this summer the top priority, a section of Route 100 in Waterbury, will be undergoing construction and will come off the list. Next summer a section of Route 62 near Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin will go under construction, Gladczuk said, and a section of Route 14 in Barre Town is close to being ready to be built. Another section of Route 14 in Barre is undergoing design, and a part of Route 110 in Barre Town is just starting the design process.
Even with all of those projects seeing progress, Gladczuk contested what Robie said about a project needing to be deemed a priority by the regional commission before the state will take action. Gladczuk said the Transportation Agency doesn’t recognize the intersection as a project and won’t do anything about it regardless of its place on the priority list.
He said the next step in the process is to get the agency to recognize the intersection.
“We’ve asked them to do that, and they kind of indicated no in the past,” he said.
Gladczuk said the town asked him Friday to set up a meeting with Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, town officials and the regional planning commission. The date has not been set.
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