State green-lights slower speeds on U.S. 2 (9/10/09)

New 30 mph zone will cover Williston Village

Sept. 10, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The state of Vermont has OK’d lower speed limits on U.S. 2 that could help cut the high accident rate in Williston Village.


    File photo
Vehicles drive through the 35 mph speed limit zone of Williston Village earlier this summer. The limit is being lowered to 30 mph.

The speed limit on a mile-long stretch of U.S. 2 between Old Stage Road and Johnson Lane will drop to 30 mph. East of Johnson Lane, a new “transition zone” will be created where the speed will be 40 mph.

The Vermont Traffic Committee last week voted to approve the changes, which were recommended as part of a study conducted earlier this summer by the Agency of Transportation. The study was requested by the Williston Selectboard, which has been under fire for its decision to address traffic problems by installing a roundabout in the village.

Though local politics may have influenced the Selectboard, Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said the committee’s vote was based solely on recommendations made by the study.

“This was not a political decision,” he said.

The traffic study looked at vehicle speeds and accident rates in the village. It found there had been 50 crashes during a five-year period ending in 2008, despite the fact that most motorists were traveling at or near the speed limit.

Speed limits are primarily based on the speed at which 85 percent of all motorists actually drive. But the study concluded that because of other factors — the high accident rate, traffic volume and the presence of pedestrians and public facilities — a lower limit was merited.

Bart Chamberlain, Williston’s acting police chief, said enforcement of village speed limits will be stepped up once the new signs are installed. But the goal will be to educate rather than penalize motorists who are traveling just a few miles an hour faster than the limit.

“My plan is to basically hand out warnings for a few weeks or months,” he said, adding that motorists who far exceed the speed limit will still receive tickets.

The new speed limits represent only a small reduction. The current limit through most of the village is 35 mph. It increases to 40 mph west of Old Stage Road and 50 mph east of Johnson Lane.

The idea of a slower speed limit emerged from a controversy surrounding the Selectboard’s vote to install a roundabout at the intersection where U.S. 2 meets Oak Hill and North Williston roads. A majority of the board felt the roundabout would best reduce frequent commute-hours backups.

The nearly $1 million project would be eligible for 100 percent federal funding through a program designed to reduce accidents at crash-prone intersections. But many residents are opposed to the roundabout, asserting it is unnecessary and unwanted. Hundreds signed a petition opposing it.

The board has so far declined to change course, but it did agree to a study to determine if speed was driving up the accident rate. In addition to signing off on the lower speed limit, the board also requested the state extend the slower speed zone westward to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, where vehicles enter and exit a parking lot located on a steep hill along U.S. 2.

Zicconi said the committee, headed by Transportation Secretary David Dill, did not address that request during its brief discussion on Sept. 3 preceding the speed limit vote.

“The committee was aware of the letter requesting we look at the church as the boundary, but no one from the town attended so the dialogue was brief and resulted in approval of our engineer’s recommendation,” Zicconi wrote in an e-mail.

The speed limit reductions will go into effect once signs are ready. Zicconi said the new signs would be erected in about 60 days.