Your way or the highway?

I-89 work to continue all summer

May 22, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A long line of brake lights cast a red glow on the rain-slicked pavement through Williston Village last Thursday. Westbound vehicles backed up for about a half-mile at the intersection of U.S. 2 and Oak Hill Road.

Repairs on Interstate 89 at French Hill have over the past 10 days clogged the formerly hassle-free commute along U.S. 2 as motorists detoured around the construction zone. The work is scheduled to be completed no later than Memorial Day, according to the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

The respite may be brief as the state gears up for a massive repaving project on I-89. But officials promise to minimize the impact, at least on daytime commuters.

"As soon as work is finished on French Hill, everything we will do will be done at night," said Robert Suckert, resident engineer with the Agency of Transportation.

The repaving includes 13 miles of southbound Interstate 89 running from exit 11 in Richmond to exit 16 in Colchester. Also slated for fresh asphalt is four miles on the southbound side between exits 13 and 16.

Those stretches have in recent years developed cracks and grooves. But first a more immediate and perhaps dangerous problem needed attention.

A deep dip developed on a 500-foot stretch of I-89 in the French Hill area of Williston. Scrape marks indicated that some vehicles were bottoming out, despite signs warning motorists to slow down.

Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said that work was considered a separate project because it involved reconstruction rather than repaving. The contractor has to dig down to the highway's base to complete repairs.

The clogged commute on U.S. 2 came as motorists tried to avoid the interstate work, which closed a lane and backed up traffic as far as exit 11 in Richmond.

Eastbound traffic on U.S. 2 sometimes backs up at the intersection of Oak Hill and North Williston roads during the afternoon commute. But westbound traffic usually flows smoothly.

After the I-89 work started, many motorists tried U.S. 2, which runs parallel to the highway through Williston. That led to clogged westbound traffic at the four-way stop sign and elsewhere between the village and Taft Corners during the morning commute.

Last Thursday at about 8:30 a.m., it took an Observer reporter 20 minutes to get through the backed-up intersection and drive the two miles to Taft Corners. That drive usually takes about 5 minutes.

State officials said the backups lasted for only about an hour each morning.  

"We found it was of a short duration," said Suckert. "Maybe it was a little bit of pain, but it was for a short amount of time."

An officer directed traffic at the intersection for the first three days of the I-89 repairs, which started May 12. But town officials concluded that human intervention was actually slowing the commute and asked the state to let the four-way stop sign do its job, said Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden. The state also adjusted the traffic light at Talcott Road, another choke point for traffic.

The contractor working on both dip repair and repaving projects, Pike Industries Inc., has yet to determine when and where the repaving work will begin, Zicconi said. The contract requires the project to be completed in October.

Another contract provision requires Pike Industries to do the repaving work at night. The precise work hours may be adjusted, Zicconi said, but will probably run from 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.

The ban on daytime paving means the impact on traffic — and the need for motorists to use detours like U.S. 2 — will be minimized, Zicconi said. Lane closures will be limited to the nighttime, and then only on the portion of the highway where work is taking place.

"The issue to stress to people is that peak-hour traffic will not be impacted," Zicconi said.