Worth the Wait?

Route 2: Pain now–Payback later

The green is a confusing mess at the moment.

By Sharon Lakey

Senator Jane Kitchel was quoted in the Caledonian-Record on July 1, 2011, at a meeting between the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Danville residents and business owners. “Maybe this project is a lot like having a baby. When we get done we’ll be pleased with what we have, hopefully.”

There’s no doubt about the pain. Anyone trying to make it through and around Danville this summer has experienced it. Frustration has sometimes been high, but lately it seems people, at least locally, are waiting for the baby with more stoicism. And while wel’re waiting, there is renewed interest in what the final product is going to look like. Over the past 20-plus years, the collective memory of how this project evolved has dimmed; perhaps a review of how we got here from there is useful. So, a little history…

In 1989, Jenny and Joseph, two Danville students, were walking home along Route 2 after classes. It was a snowy afternoon and the road was icy slush. A black car came barreling up the road, through the blinking caution light, headed toward Montpelier. The driver lost control and slammed into the kids, even dragging Joseph a ways as he clung to the bumper. Miraculously, both children survived, but that was the last straw. Parents, community members and officials felt something had to be done to slow traffic through Danville.

It had been a priority of the state for a long time to widen Route 2 through Danville to meet federal two-lane standards, but the redesign through Danville was a puzzle. For drivers on the top of Dole Hill coming into Danville, not only is the view breathtaking, it is also a straight course down into the village. There is a natural increased momentum as one descends the hill and a freeway kind of look encourages speed. Just how was the need to move traffic smoothly through the town going to meet the town’s safety goals?

Not only was safety an issue; there was also a hope among citizens that cars wouldn’t just zip through town. If travelers slowed and paid attention to their surroundings, they might want to stop, especially if what they saw was attractive. This would create a more business-friendly atmosphere. And, as the highway splits Danville in two, it was also important to keep citizens comfortably and safely connected across that hard dividing line created by the highway.

Thus began the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s first experiment in a collaborative effort with local government and citizen input to design an acceptable road that would meet the needs of both community and federal highway guidelines. Another player would be called into the effort–the Vermont Arts Council. As one percent of federal funding for the project was allocated to integrating artistic enhancements into the project, the council would act as an important resource for the community.

Consensus building is never an easy process, and this was no exception. A committee of nine members local volunteers agreed to garner input from the community and relay it to the designers as well as keep the select board informed. They also acted as resources to pass information from the designers to the general public. It was a bumpy process with much give-and-take on all parts before the basic design was agreed on in 2002. The project was funded in 2003.

And here we are, in 2011, in the first year of a three-year process to complete the Danville Project. For the nest two summers, we are told to expect traffic delays as VTrans completes its part of the bargain. The last year will be less invasive as the Green will be landscaped and art pieces installed.

It is hard to imagine the completed project. Boulders strewn, noisy machines, orange plastic fencing, a plethora of workers holding and spinning stop and slow signs–all this creates confusion, and it is hard to visualize a peaceful finished product.

But the grand design is there, well-thought out after hundreds of hours of gathering information and hammering out the details. Mert Leonard, Danville’s town administrator, has kept the drawings and designs for the project tucked away in his office since 2002. In this issue, we are sharing the basic highway design for Route 2 and around the green, noting the way traffic will flow through town.

The islands, sidewalks, and stoplight are shown in this image.

The two photos attributed to Dufresne-Henry Inc, a consulting firm hired by VTrans to provide assistance in designing the project, are 3-D images of how the highway will look to drivers. The first is of the center of town before the main intersetion; the second is after a driver leaves the intersection and is heading toward Marty’s.

Entering Danville from either side, drivers will encounter small islands, their gentle curvature sending a subtle message that they have entered a town and require a slower speed to negotiate them. A stoplight will be installed at the intersection of Hill Street and Peacham Road at Route 2. It will trigger when cars from Hill Street and Peacham Road approach. Drivers progressing through the intersection from Montpelier to St. Johnsbury will again encounter the islands, and there will be a left turning lane into Marty’s.

Traffic on and off the Green will be more managable with the addition of two one-way streets: Park Street will be one-way off Rt. 2. Brainerd Street will be one-way onto Route 2. The slanted road (marked by the X) will be removed. The Peacham Road will be a two-way street. These changes, with the addition of the stoplight, will make the traffic flow much smoother and safer.

In the third drawing is a photo of the proposed green design, showing how traffic will enter and exit Route 2 on the green side of town. Two one-way streets, on either side of the green, and the removal of one road onto Route 2 will grant only two entries and two exits from the highway, bringing it down from four. This makes a great deal of sense for safety and calmness around the green.

In the coming months, we’ll take a look at the green enhancement and see how the artists are progressing. Two artists have been coming to the Historical House to work on their designs, and we’ll share what they are doing.

Much more detailed information, including a history and analysis of the Danville Project, can be garnered online. Just Google the Danville Project and you will find ample reading material. If you would like to see the drawing that Mert had in his office, you may see them at the Danville Historial Society on Tuesdays or Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m.

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