Study calls for lower speed limit on U.S. 2 in Williston Village (8/20/09)

Aug. 20, 2009

50 crashes reported on stretch through village

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The speed limit on U.S. 2 should be slowed to reduce the high number of crashes in Williston Village, a new study by the state Agency of Transportation recommends.

The traffic study found that most motorists were traveling at or around the current speed limit along the mile-long stretch between Old Stage and Oak Hill roads. But Amy Gamble, traffic operations engineer with the Agency of Transportation, said that the high number of crashes suggests that the limit, which is either 35 mph or 40 mph depending on the precise location, should be lowered.

Gamble said the state tries to make speed limits match the speed most motorists travel. But safety is also a consideration.

“It’s kind of a judgment call, how to best service the interests of the traveling public,” she said. “You have to both preserve mobility and ensure safety.”

The report recommends that the 35 mph speed zone be reduced to 30 mph from Old Stage Road to Johnson Lane, which is about a quarter-mile east of the Oak Hill Road intersection. The report also recommends establishing a new 40 mph “transition zone” east of that point, where the speed limit now abruptly rises to 50 mph.

The traffic study came in response to the controversy over the Selectboard’s decision to install a roundabout at the intersection where U.S. 2 meets Oak Hill and North Williston roads.

During a June meeting, the board listened to a presentation by state transportation officials about the roundabout, then asked for the study as a way to temper an emotional debate with hard facts.

The board was responding to opponents who said the town should consider lower speed limits or other safety measures instead of installing a roundabout, which they claimed was unnecessary and would hurt the village’s historic character.  

The roundabout’s nearly $1 million construction cost would be funded through a federal program designed to fix unsafe intersections. With 25 crashes during a five-year period ending in 2006, the intersection is considered among the 50 most dangerous in the state.

The new study tallied twice as many traffic accidents when the entire stretch of U.S. 2 through the village was considered, with 50 crashes from 2004 through the end of 2008. The accidents resulted in 12 injuries but no fatalities.

Speed limits are generally based on the speed at which 85 percent of all motorists drive, Gamble said. That rule of thumb is the primary consideration, Gamble said, but there are other factors, including accident rates, traffic volume, the number of crosswalks and the location of civic buildings such as schools.

Each of the above are present in the sometimes congested stretch of U.S. 2, which includes Williston Central School and Town Hall as well as several pedestrian crossings.

The study, as the Selectboard requested, also looked at speeds and accident rates along Vermont 2A between Taft Corners and the Essex Junction town line. Gamble recommended the speed limit, also 35 mph or 40 mph depending on location, remain the same.

The number of accidents over the past five years on that stretch – 254 – is far higher than on U.S. 2 in the village. But because of a greater traffic volume, Gamble said the accident rate on 2A falls below a level that would prompt lower speed limits.

The Selectboard is scheduled to decide at its meeting next Monday whether to ask the Vermont Traffic Committee to vote on the study’s recommended speed limit reduction. The three-member committee, headed by Vermont Transportation Secretary David Dill, next meets on Sept. 3.