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Who’s on first?

Board says motorists need refresher in covered-bridge etiquette

DUMMERSTON—Roads Foreman Lee Chamberlin recently attended a meeting at the West Dummerston Covered Bridge to “[see] if there was a way to stop people from having confrontations in the bridge.”

At the Oct. 28 Selectboard meeting, Chamberlin reported that he met with a number of town officials, including some board members, and Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann to assess conflicts at the single-lane bridge.

Chamberlin said the traffic problems occur when two vehicles meet partway through the bridge, not realizing the presence of another car inside until it is too late.

Board members and Chamberlin agreed that what is missing is not only visibility, but clarity on who has the right of way.

“It’s dark for the first 50 feet” until one’s eyes adjust, he said, making it nearly impossible to see people walking inside the bridge.

One option the group discussed was asking the town’s Energy Committee what it would cost to leave the bridge’s interior lights on all day.

Chamberlin noted this measure will also help keep pedestrians safe.

Another barrier to visibility at the bridge is with drivers coming off Camp Arden Road.

“Until you start to get onto the paved road, you can’t see what’s on the bridge,” said board member Jerelyn Wilson.

As a possible solution, the Selectboard considered adding a motion detector that would signal drivers coming from Camp Arden Road that a vehicle is coming their way.

At one point, a sign on the bridge warned drivers that vehicles coming from Route 30 had the right of way. Chamberlin and the board discussed installing one again and where to put it.

Wilson asserted the importance of communicating to drivers who gets to go first.

“Whatever helps Camp Arden Road drivers understand they have secondary access to the bridge” would be helpful, Wilson said.

“It’s not really an issue on East-West Road” because “you can see what’s on the bridge,” she added.

Her colleague Joe Cook was not convinced. He said visibility can be poor coming from East-West Road, “especially if cars don’t have their lights on.”

Chamberlin said “most locals get it,” but tourists might not know one-lane-bridge etiquette.

Although Chamberlin said he has not seen many accidents or traffic backed up at the approach to the bridge, Board member Steve Glabach said “we’re seeing traffic on East-West Road we’ve never seen before.”

He attributed the increase to the Global Positioning System (GPS) maps directing “up over the hill” to some drivers who would otherwise not know to take East-West Road from Route 30 to Route 5.

Regardless of which solution town officials decide on, Chamberlin said he does not expect it “to be the cure-all” for the bridge’s woes.

“There are always people who won’t wait their turn,” Glabach said. “They always have to be first.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #333 (Wednesday, November 25, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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