WESTMINSTER -- Some people used a public hearing Thursday to express concerns over the possibility of the Vermont Agency of Transportation installing centerline rumble strips along U.S. Route 5 between Putney and Westminster as part of a wider state plan. Rumble strips are intended to cause vibrations and create noise when driven on in order to alert operators to possible drifting of the vehicle they are driving.
A couple of attendees said they are worried the installation of the strips could mirror the "disaster" along the section of Route 9 that connects Marlboro and Brattleboro. Whitingham resident Steve Morse said the grooves in the Route 9 strips are "so damn deep that it is not even reasonable" and another man agreed with him.
VTrans sent three officials to Westminster Town Hall on Thursday in the first of three public hearings aimed at raising general awareness about the state's desire to install highway rumble strips along stretches of state highway in the area. There is another hearing scheduled for Rockingham Town Hall at 6 p.m. on Aug. 28 (in regards to sections of U.S. Route 5 between Putney and Westminster) and one set for Mount Holly at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9. Seven members of the public showed up at Thursday's hearing in Westminster.
Morse, who often takes Route 9 to get from Marlboro to Brattleboro, said whoever approved that project and the contractor tasked with the installation should have "been tarred and feathered with the oil they used to pave (the road).
Kevin Marshia, a deputy chief engineer with the VTrans Highway Division, acknowledged that those specific rumble strips were installed incorrectly and he believes the contractor did not get paid for the job because it was done so poorly. But Morse said "John Q. Public is losing -- even if the guy didn't get paid."
After the public hearing ended, Marshia told the Reformer the kinks have been worked out of the installation process and there have been very few complaints about them - even from people who were initially opposed to the idea.
Hollis and Sally Ryea said they are concerned about the potential for noise, as they live in Westminster West and can hear vehicles drive over the rumble strips on a stretch of road near their home.
According to information from VTrans, rumble strips will be considered only where pavement width is 28 feet or greater (with a minimum of a three-foot paved shoulder), the speed limit is 45 mph or higher and the average daily traffic is 1,500 vehicles or greater per day. They also will be considered for spots that do meet the criteria, as long as crash history indicates a pattern of head-on, sideswipe, or single-vehicle crashes. Marshia stressed there is no intention to install strips in residential neighborhoods.
The VTrans states centerline rumble strips are discontinued where there are narrow bridges, two-way left-turn lanes, breaks in the centerline, residences within 100 feet of a centerline, raised medians, closely spaced commercial drives with high-volume-turning traffic, or bridges or concrete roadways with less than two and a half inches of pavement.
Marshia said the maximum depth of the strips' grooves would be three-eighths of an inch, making them shallower than the ones that line the shoulder of much of Interstate-91. Each one would also be 12 inches wide and seven inches in length. There would be two feet of space between every two rumble strips.
He said installation would likely come with a pricetag of $1,500 to $2,500 per mile, which he said is "pretty darn cheap."
Marshia, flanked by colleagues Ryan Darling and Bruce Nyquist, went through a PowerPoint presentation (which can be found online) in Westminster Town Hall and explained how rumble strips have greatly reduced the number of crashes seen throughout the state. The three offered statewide statistics that indicate there have been 3,943 vehicle crashes in Vermont over the past five years, resulting in 1,788 injuries and 94 fatalities.
Marshia also presented a seven-year crash history of the portion of Route 5 between Putney and Westminster, the portion the state has proposed for the installation of rumble strips. His figures identified 130 crashes (with 66 injuries) within the proposed project area. Thirteen of those accidents involved a vehicle crossing the centerline. Marshia later said the United States has seen a 44 percent reduction in head-on crashes (which are the most deadly type) on rural two-lane roads after the installation of rumble strips and Vermont has experienced a 23 percent drop in all crashes, with a 36 percent reduction in those resulting in injury.
He said rumble strips also improve visibility in wet conditions because the centerlines are painted through the strips' dips.
Responding to the Ryeas' concerns, Marshia said VTrans has performed various studies related to noise associated with rumble strips. They used three types of vehicles --a passenger car, a pickup truck and a dump truck -- in a controlled environment and found that noise went up no more than three decibels (how sound intensity is measured), though the decibels have been up by five to eight after certain installations. Marshia also noted, however, that noise associated with the strips typically decreases over time.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.