WILMINGTON—Seen by many drivers passing through town as the intersection of Routes 9 and 100, and known as East, West, South, and North Main streets to residents, the intersection of the two state highways carries the perception of acting as a vehicular choke point for an average of 12,000 vehicles each day.
The Windham Regional Commission (WRC) took feedback on Monday from residents and business owners about how such traffic affects their daily lives and businesses at Wilmington’s compact downtown intersection.
Route 9 is the only major east-west highway in southern Vermont, and it is used heavily by tractor trailers, said WRC Executive Director Chris Campany. It is also part of the national highway system and thus subject to certain requirements, like accommodating tractor trailers.
Meanwhile, Route 100 through Wilmington serves as the main north-south thoroughfare and the primary route to the Mount Snow ski resort in West Dover, Campany said, though he stressed that the discussion was not about one development.
Campany and his colleagues, planners Matt Mann and Cullen Meves, asked the audience a series of three questions about how the traffic affected their daily lives and possible solutions. They hoped to gather feedback from residents, business owners, resort owners and affiliates, and employees who commute in town.
“So what are the real effects? What are the real impacts?” Campany asked.
The commission hopes to use the audience members’ experiences to round out quantitive data gathered regularly by federal, state, and local agencies.
The commission will accept comments until Friday, Dec. 7. The survey will appear online at windhamregional.org. The information will be compiled into a report available to local officials and planners.
According to Mann, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) daily traffic counts for 2010, the most recent data available, averaged approximately 5,000 vehicles traveling Route 9, and 7,000 vehicles traveling Route 100.
The intersection had also been designated a high crash location based on the number of accidents between 2006 and 2010, said Mann.
Adapting to the traffic
The audience of about 40 had few complaints about traffic volume. Local business owners said they preferred that more people visited.
Susan Haughwout, town clerk and Selectboard member, viewed the traffic congestion as cyclical.
The town experienced heavy traffic during “big ski weekends,” holidays, she said, or events like the May 14 Tough Mudder, a 10-to-12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces which raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Haughwout, who works in the town offices downtown, described a car accident between her and a driver who assumed the parking area along Main Street was the right-turn lane for Route 100 north.
Most people can stomach a busy weekend, a woman in the audience said.
According to Mann, May 14 traffic counts were 10,000 cars traveling to Mount Snow, which hosted the Tough Mudder event.
Many of the residents recounted the ways that they use side roads to bypass the main streets during busy traffic times.
According to Cliff Duncan, a local business owner and former traffic committee member, the town has long discussed the intersection.
The discussion went so far as the traffic committee proposing AOT construct two tunnels cutting from south of the village and rejoining Route 100 north of the downtown. Duncan said the tunnel plan didn’t jazz AOT.
To the WRC’s surprise, the audience expressed other concerns. At the top of the list: pedestrian safety, vehicles not stopping before turning north on Route 100, tractor trailers’ speed, and the noise from the trucks’ compression-release engine brakes (Jake brakes).
The audience highlighted a faulty pedestrian crossing signal at the intersection, issues with the timing of the traffic lights, hard-to-see crosswalks, and the absence of measures for traffic calming.
Ambulance driver and Selectboard member Randall Terk said ambulances still can navigate the intersection even during traffic jams.
The Deerfield Valley Transit Association’s MOOver bus, however, has had a harder time with traffic jams and has had its schedule knocked out of shape by traffic backups, he said.
Campany asked the audience if Wilmington had considered designing “gateways” to the town.
A gateway design, included features like signage, pillars, and narrowing of the road, can help slow traffic and signals to visitors that they’re entering a village and residential downtown, he said.
Mann and Campany also discussed negotiating with AOT to take over partial responsibility for maintaining the highways in Wilmington.
Such a memorandum of understanding would allow the town to change the road, like adding curb extensions (also known as bulb-outs) near crosswalks or installing speed bumps.
The road would remain a part of the national highway system, said Meves, and would have to accommodate truck traffic.
Audience members joked they could commission three-dimensional pavement paintings: one to mimic a giant hole and another on the Route 9 bridge over the Deerfield River depicting open water.
Other, more serious suggestions included assigning a police officer to direct traffic during heavy travel times, better calibration of the traffic lights, and more visible pavement paint colors for crosswalks and parking spaces.
Campany said he felt pleased at the audience’s willingness to experiment with managing the movement of vehicles and pedestrians in the village.
He said that fixing the basic issues of pedestrian safety in the long run would improve everyone’s lives. Most of the fixes were also under the town’s control.