DUMMERSTON—After a lengthy discussion, recommendations to the contrary, and a very close vote (3-2), the Selectboard decided to accept resident Dick Virkstis’ request to put an additional speed limit sign on East-West Road.
The sign, showing the road’s speed limit of 25 mph, will go on the base of the hill on the downhill side, near the Salmon Brook Bridge.
This action is the Selectboard’s response to residents’ complaints, including some from Virkstis, about speeding vehicles on the stretch of road running east from Dummerston Center.
Virkstis pushed for the additional sign because, he said, he does not think people know the speed limit is 25 mph on that portion of East-West Road — other sections of East-West Road, and nearby Middle Road, have a posted speed limit of 35 mph and he said that may cause motorists’ confusion.
Virkstis claims he has seen the readout on the sheriff’s department’s mobile radar cart displaying cars’ speeds of 45 mph and up.
However, the traffic study completed by the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) did not entirely support his assertion.
Matt Mann, senior planner with the WRC, shared the results of the speed study he conducted. According to the results Mann received from the placement of traffic tubes “almost at the base of the hill,” 93 percent of cars go faster than the posted 25 mph speed limit, the average speed traveled is 33 mph, and 85 percent of vehicles travel at 38 mph or less.
Virkstis said he did not think the traffic study results reflect the reality of how people travel on the road. Although Mann said the tubes were placed at the optimal position to collect the data, Virkstis disagreed.
“What I think you picked up was people braking” before crossing the traffic tubes, Virkstis said.
Mann suggested the town may want to increase the posted speed limit on that portion of the road to 35 mph to make it consistent with other parts of East-West Road. He told the board the state typically increases a road’s speed limit if traffic studies show many cars traveling faster than what is posted.
He said the state does that because the assumption is, most drivers are familiar with the road, and the state wants to discourage tailgating and passing.
Although Mann said the state uses traffic study data when making its determination, the WRC’s position is that other variables should be considered, such as land use, the presence of bicycles and pedestrians, horses, homes’ setbacks, and crash data. “Anything that’s special,” Mann said.
Board member Joe Cook was not convinced raising the speed limit was a good idea, even if the majority of people already drive faster than 25 mph on the road.
“Is it fair to say” people will drive even faster if the speed limit is raised, Cook asked.
“Typically they don’t, because they drive the speed that is comfortable for them,” Mann said, adding, “they keep on driving what they’re driving” regardless of the speed limit.
As part of the WRC’s study, Mann said he examined crash data for the stretch of East-West Road about which Virkstis is concerned, and he found nothing recent.
“Moving the sign to the bottom of the hill isn’t the right answer,” Mann said.
Roads Foreman Lee Chamberlin agreed, noting Vermont’s Agency of Transportation sent engineers to help Dummerston place its speed limit signs, and they used federal highway standards.
Mann suggested alternate options for traffic-calming on the road, including striping fog lines and maintaining a mobile speed cart. He also recommended the selectboard arrange for the Sheriff’s Department to customize their traffic patrols of that portion of East-West Road to cover the times when Virkstis and other residents report the most speeding vehicles.
Virkstis agreed with Mann’s traffic-calming suggestions.
The sign is not enough, he said, adding he agreed traffic patrols would help. He said if regular travelers on the road knew patrols had increased, it would calm traffic.
It would also bring in revenue.
Virkstis told the board, “if you had a patrol car [Columbus Day] weekend, you could have balanced your budget.”
“Our budget is balanced, for the record,” Board Chair Zeke Goodband replied.