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Proposed byway draws questions about traffic safety

08/02/2007

By Erin Post

The potential for more tourist traffic, and more accidents, on a treacherous stretch of Route 17 has residents of Buels Gore at the top of the Appalachian Gap concerned about a proposed byway extension.

Garret Mott, supervisor of the unincorporated town of about 20 residents, said at a public hearing July 26 that highlighting the route's scenic qualities through signs, kiosks and other projects may attract motorists unaware of the dangers of the steep road filled with switchback turns, prompting questions about safety.

"We have enough problems with traffic," he said, citing vehicles traveling too fast for road conditions, especially in the winter, and the hazard this creates for residents attempting to pull out of driveways.

A meeting late last year -- after the proposal came to the town's attention -- solidified the position of residents, Mott said.

"It was unanimous that they were not in favor of the Route 17 part of the design," he said, adding that the other piece of the proposal, to extend the byway south through Waitsfield, Warren and Granville Gulf, did not draw the same opposition.

Mott, who also serves as chair of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, suggested that if the project moves forward, that byway officials consider pursuing funds for signs along Route 17 that highlight the route's deadly past.

"I think that's a very important piece to let people know that that's not a road to mess with," he said, noting that it wasn't his intent to "derail" the project, only to relay residents' concerns.

He also suggested better communication between byway planners and Chittenden County officials on the west side of the mountains.

The suggestions came during a public hearing at the Warren Town Hall as plans for the byway extension begin the approval process. Steve Gladczuk, transportation planner for Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission, and David Raphael, principal and founder of LandWorks in Middlebury, presented the corridor management plan and nomination package for the proposed byway extension.

Plans calls for the recently designated Mad River Byway in Moretown to extend south on Route 100 through Waitsfield, Warren and Granville Gulf, as well as up Route 17 to the top of the gap, Raphael said.

To be accepted into the byway program, a route must show at least one of six "intrinsic resources" as defined by the state: natural, recreational, historical, archaeological, cultural or scenic. The first step for the Mad River proposal was to inventory those resources, Raphael said.

With the help of a local steering committee, several goals for the byway extension were created. These include the development of multi-modal transportation opportunities, including walking paths, preservation of the area's rural character and resources, development of recreation opportunities and promotion of the region through "integrated" marketing.

A big draw of byway designation is access to grants and federal funds, Raphael said. Communities in the Connecticut River Valley and Champlain Valley have realized millions of dollars for byway projects; Moretown recently received a grant to develop signs and kiosks on their route.

For the Mad River Byway extension, possibilities include new trailhead signs for the Mad River Path as well as funding for other projects such as bridges. Funds may also be accessed to purchase easements. A new trail section near the Wait House may be constructed with byway funds.

A map and guide could be developed to highlight "all of the recreational and cultural resources here in The Valley," he said.

If the byway designation is granted, the steering committee, with input from local residents, would be tasked with deciding which projects to pursue, Raphael said.

Local select boards are scheduled to consider the byway proposal for approval in August, Gladczuk said. If select boards sign off, the proposal then passes to the Vermont Scenery Preservation Council for a public hearing and their approval. The package would then be turned over to the Vermont Transportation Board for another hearing and formal route designation.

Byway designation must be renewed every five years.

Contact Erin Post at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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