VTrans to reopen Route 9 this weekend; Route 4 next week

Construction vehicles work to clean up Brattleboro following Tropical Storm Irene.

Construction vehicles work to clean up Brattleboro following Tropical Storm Irene.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation is rebuilding two east-west corridors in southern Vermont that have been hobbled by extreme damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced at a press conference on Thursday that Route 4 and Route 9, both of which have bridge outages and sections of roadway that crumbled away when floodwaters scoured the region, would be open no later than Sept. 17.

The two state highways are conduits that connect towns in the southern Vermont region to New Hampshire in the east and New York in the west. Drivers in the Route 9 area are now taking a southern detour, into Massachusetts.

Route 9 will be opened this weekend, Shumlin said, and Route 4 will handle two-way traffic next week. The two state highways were reduced to rubble and river bed in places. The governor called the restoration of travel along the routes “an extraordinary achievement.”

The state’s two main north-south traffic corridors — Interstate 89 and Interstate 91 — were not affected by flooding.

On Aug. 29, the day after the storm, 450 miles of state highways were closed (out of a total of 2,700 miles on the state system). Eleven days later, state road crews and National Guard member teams, by dint of 15- to 16-hour days, had opened all but 57 miles of state highways, according to Brian Searles, secretary of the Agency of Transportation.

Shumlin said he is grateful to National Guard teams from six states and VTrans road crews that continued working through the Labor Day weekend – even when agency officials begged workers to take time off.

Shumlin was reluctant to provide a running cost estimate for the damage; Searles referred to “hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of infrastructure damage to state highways and bridges. The secretary said he anticipated the cost of repairing the more extensive town highway system to also cost more than $200 million. Those preliminary assumptions would put the damage estimates at $400 million – minimum. Agency officials have said the cost of replacing and repairing portions of the state highway system could be much higher.

The governor told reporters that the roads will be “passable” and will not be paved in many areas until later in the fall. He urged drivers to be patient, and he joked that slow travel times will give leaf-peepers more time to admire the fall foliage.

“Let’s be clear what this means,” Shumlin said. “These highways will be reminiscent of your grandparents’ highways. They will be passable lanes, not paved.”

There are eight long sections of state highway that are closed: Route 73 between Route 30 in Brandon and Rochester; Routes 100 and 107 between Stockbridge and Killington; Route 4 from Rutland to West Bridgewater and Route 100 from West Bridgewater to Plymouth; Route 4 and Route 100A from Plymouth to Woodstock; a section of Route 12 and a bridge between Woodstock and Barnard; Route 12A from Northfield to Randolph; Route 131 between Ascutney and Cavendish; and Route 100 between Wardsboro and West Townshend.

More than a dozen state highways have been reduced to one lane and are limited to local traffic only.

Searles said the closed roads that remain have been washed away for miles or have been very badly damaged and consequently will be more difficult to reopen. In an interview, Chris Cole, director of planning for VTrans, said “It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the impact on Vermont’s infrastructure.”

Route 100 is riddled with washouts at “every bend in the river,” as he put it.

There are hundreds of trees washing down through streams and rivers that could wreak havoc with restoration efforts this fall – or next spring when more flooding loosens the logjams, according to Cole.

Searles said Route 107 between Bethel and Stockbridge will be a “long project.” A four-mile section of the state highway disappeared into river bed. The agency has been restoring the two-lane paved highway but suffered a setback when a slope failed, destroying the roadwork.

“We will be into winter before it’s open,” Searles said.

Once Routes 4 and 9 have been reopened for limited service, the agency will focus on bridge replacements. Washed out bridges have caused about half of the closures, and it takes a month or more to install temporary, single-lane bridges, he said.

Searles said the agency will also be working to pave as much of the damaged state highways as possible so that they are ready for the wear and tear of winter maintenance.

Regional Planning Commissions will be helping towns work with the state and FEMA to get the materials, equipment, contractors and financial resources to repair local roads, Searles said. The agency will be launching a call center for information about local roads.

Searles praised the Vermont State Police, the Agency of Natural Resources, Maine and New Hampshire transportation officials, and the Guard units from Maine, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire for helping his agency make emergency repairs. Maine sent 149 transportation workers to Vermont early this week.

Railway service in Vermont has been restored for the most part, according to Cole. The Ethan Allen Amtrak route is back online and most freight lines are running again. There are two notable exceptions, however: The Connecticut River Line is out because a metal pier that supports a bridge in White River Junction slipped; and the Amtrak section between Montpelier and White River Junction is still under repair as part of a $65 million upgrade funded by the federal stimulus money first made available in 2009.

Anne Galloway

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