On July 15, 2020

Angst over Hartland intersection continues

$1.4 million project to be voted on  Aug. 11

By Curt Peterson

A project to reconfigure the intersection of routes 5 and 12, and Ottauquechee Road at Hartland Three-Corners has evoked lively controversy in the town of 3,300 residents.

The issue is complicated, to a degree requiring multiple explanations at official meetings and on the town’s listserv.

Noah Jacobson-Goodhue said in a June 14 post, “When my wife and I spearheaded this latest effort at fixing the intersection, it was on the [heels] of our then 8-year-old daughter almost getting hit as the family was trying to cross Route 5. She is now 17.”

Jacobson-Goodhue is primarily in favor of a safer four-way intersection, but wouldn’t be against improving aesthetics.

“The current configuration of the intersection is not only a confusing eyesore and accident waiting to happen, but also leaves Hartland as little more than a curve on US 5 for vehicles to negotiate,” he wrote.

VTrans and the Agency of Transportation had to be convinced a reconfiguration of state highways was acceptable.

At 2014 Town Meeting, if Tom Ripley is correct, the intersection project and spending $450,000 from Hartland’s capital reserve fund were approved by voice and hand vote, 90-60. The capital fund is to be replenished from taxes over five-years.

Some people gathered signatures on a 2020 petition for an Australian ballot revote regarding the entire project, but petitioners have only 30 days following a vote to ask for re-balloting.

The Select Board obtained an estimate for burying the utility lines at the intersection, both for safety and beautification, bringing the total cost to $1,400,000, a figure that alarmed many Hartlanders.

Burying the utilities and the original design will be on a ballot Aug. 11, spending $1,400,000, with $338,000 funded with grants, and $1,062,000 from a 20-year bond. Absentee ballots can be obtained through the town offices. There is a remote Select Board meeting Aug. 3 at 5:30 p.m. with opportunity to ask questions.

The Select Board is adamant about completing the project.

Dave Ormiston, town manager, told the Mountain Times the board “decided they were not going to revote the original project and if the bond failed, the original project would still move forward.”

If the bond is approved, Ormiston said, someone could petition within 30 days to revote that issue, but whether the bond fails the first vote, or a revote, the $450,000 is still available and the project will go forward.

Folks fear an increase in the tax rate to bury the utilities. Richard Paul researched the economics with the business office. Paul says the average annual bond cost over 20 years would be $51,850, and the Capital Reserve reimbursement would cost $52,600 for each of five years after $187,000 grants were applied.

The annual impact would be very similar, but the bond repayment would require 15 additional years.

The stated project goal is improved safety. According to John Bruno, a traffic engineer, VTrans has recorded no accidents at the intersection for at least 10 years.

Some residents, including Jacobson-Goodhue, have claimed “near misses.”

Citing the “number of gray-haired participants” at the 2014 Town Meeting a voter asked if anyone recalled an accident at the intersection. No one could.

Bruno and others have suggested alternative designs – such as a roundabout instead of a four-way stop.

That might resolve issues cited by Bill Gaucher, who owns BG’s Market and the real estate at Hartland Plaza. Customers for Mascoma Bank, BG’s, Hartland Diner and the Post Office enter his parking lot from Route 12 and exit onto Route 12. Turning north or south, they immediately stop.

The current design would make exiting his lot more difficult and less safe, impossible for some delivery trucks, he said. Parking is already scarce, and the design eliminates larger vehicle parking at the “triangle.”

Gaucher said a more attractive downtown will bring more traffic, but with fewer places to park, eat, bank or shop. And during and after construction, he wrote, the design may “reduce sustainability for all business entities located and adjacent to this new intersection …”

Listserv voices include people looking forward to a promised safer intersection, and who feel beautification is also worthwhile.

Matt Dunne, who owns the former Yoga Studio building at the intersection, is in favor of burying the utilities, but “would be completely happy if the town decided to postpone or cancel the project due to the economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19.”

Currently VTrans is pavingRoute 5. As Bill Gaucher told the Mountain Times, when the intersection project starts, all the paving will have to be dug up.

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