Rough Roads: Northeast Kingdom road conditions affecting businesses

03/31/08 7:50AM By Charlotte Albright
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(Host) Who hasn't held their breath while veering away from a frost heave? Or hoped for the best while dodging a rut?

In Vermont, some drivers say it's the year of the pothole. Just how bad is it?

This week VPR takes to the road to find out. In the first part of our series, we travel the roads of the Northeast Kingdom, where you might expect to spin your wheels from time to time. In this corner of the state, some business owners say the poor roads are affecting sales and theyd like some action.

VPR's Charlotte Albright has the story.

(Albright) If you were trying to avoid red roads-the ones in poorest condition on the transportation department's color coded map-you'd have a hard time getting anywhere in the Northeast Kingdom. Some of the worst potholes make an obstacle course of Route 114 between Island Pond and the tiny town of Norton, on the Canadian border.

On a typical winter day in the parking lot of Pigeon's Restaurant, you may see plenty of snowmobiles-but very few cars.

Which means when snowmobile season ends, owner Pigeon Roy figures she might as well shut down for a month, until mud season passes and the frost heaves settle down.

Even if motorists do bounce and jolt their way to her door, beer truck drivers may stay away:

(Roy) "They strap their beer into the beer truck and two weeks ago he lost two cases of mine before he got here because no matter how slow you go those big trucks, those ruts and stuff, especially around Norton Pond, you get a lot of breakage."

(Albright) Roy says she and her family avoid Route 114 whenever possible, even if it means re-routing their daily commute through Canada or New Hampshire.

Farther south, in the relatively more urban St Johnsbury, Steve Patterson also sometimes has trouble getting to and from his job on time over deteriorating roads and bridges. And that's a major headache for a man who happens to be the Executive Director of the Northeastern Vermont Economic Development Association. Patterson says the northeast Kingdom is lucky that two well maintained interstate Highways 91 and 93 intersect near St Johnsbury.

(Patterson) "That said, our secondary roads and some of the state roads are as you know challenging, and it makes it very difficult for companies doing businesses here to get goods in and out as well as folks going back and forth to work."

(Albright) If the transportation system continues to decay, Patterson worries that new businesses will look elsewhere to set up shop. The Development Association has written a letter to Governor Jim Douglas asking that additional money for road repairs be drawn from the general fund, if the transportation budget falls short of pressing needs. But some business owners have resigned themselves to the fact that the less well traveled a road, the lower it is on the priority list, and if drivers routinely avoid a route that's become nearly impassable, that can be a real catch 22.

For VPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright


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