By Brett Yates
The Chittenden Select Board discovered on Dec. 27 that five town road segments did not undergo proper review before having their speed limits reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour.
In September, aiming to improve traffic safety, the board approved a proposal to reconfigure the intersection of Holden Road and Dam Road, turning a frequently confusing Y junction into a conventional T.
For good measure, the board also agreed to reduce the speed limit on Dam Road.
More recently, Chittenden Emergency Management Director Jan Sotirakis learned from a transportation planner at the Rutland Regional Planning Commission that this alteration — as well as others, in areas like Mountaintop Road and Mountain Spring Road — did not follow state-mandated procedure for changing speed limits.
“The first thing that has to happen is a traffic study to determine road conditions, how many cars, and that kind of thing,” Sotirakis described. “And then the next process is to have it approved by the Select Board based on public comments, and then, finally, adopt your ordinance.”
Traffic studies — which are handled by “by town employees, the regional planning commission, or a consultant engineer,” per the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) — take place only once the snow has melted, according to Sotirakis, and last for about two weeks.
“It isn’t just an easy ‘we think cars are going too fast; we want them to slow down.’ It has to be a fairly scientific process,” she noted.
Adopting or amending a municipal ordinance also requires a lengthy procedure. A warning must appear in a local newspaper, with copies of the full text made available in five locations, in order to give residents a chance to gather signatures for a petition, which would force a referendum at town meeting. Otherwise, the ordinance takes 60 days to go into effect.
For now, Chittenden has to choose between leaving up its speed limit signs, without the ability to enforce them, until it manages to clear the necessary procedural hurdles, months from now, to affirm the revisions made in haste; or to take them down and restore the old speed limits.
The second course appears likelier. After reading a VTrans handbook, Select Board Chair Kathie Pratt realized that most of Chittenden’s 25-mile-per-hour roads are nonstandard. “They don’t like you to lower speed limits under 35 mph, except in a school zone, and they think there shouldn’t be speed limits on dirt roads,” she observed. T
The board, however, acknowledged another problem: because the signatures apparently were not notarized on its existing traffic ordinance, Chittenden cannot currently enforce any of its speed limits, including those that the town had initially set properly. Members made plans to fix the error, with an updated ordinance (which won’t contain the offending 25-mile-per-hour limits), by its first January meeting.