Long Stretches Of Town Roads, Many Bridges Remain Closed

11/29/11 7:50AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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VPR/ Nancy Eve Cohen
Excavators put the Green River Road back together in Halifax.

(Host) The Agency of Transportation is almost finished repairing state roads that were swept away by Irene.

But officials are concerned about how they'll hold up come spring, and in towns dozens of bridges and sections of road are still closed.

VPR's Nancy Cohen reports.

(Cohen) In Halifax not a single road was spared by Irene. Christina Moore, the Project Manager of the town's recovery effort, is standing on the Green River Road. Two miles of it washed right into the river.

(Moore) "This road is still not usable . People sneak through it in evening hours and early morning hours when the work crews aren't here but we can't afford to have people on it There's no guard rails. There's no road edge markings. It's currently not safe for travel."

(Cohen) Moore says this road is part of the official evacuation route for towns near Vermont Yankee, like Brattleboro and Guilford. Moore is also chief of the local rescue squad. 

(Moore) "We've been really lucky no one has needed fire truck or ambulance on far end of  this. And we've had no nuclear issue so we're scooting through."

(Cohen) The town is also scooting through financially. The estimated cost of road repair here is $6.5 million. The town's yearly budget: $800,000. FEMA committed $55,000 recently. But that covers only a portion of a week's worth of repairs

(Moore) "We've used all of the town budget  to fund the recovery and we really don't have the funds to pay for  plows and overtime for the winter efforts."

(Cohen) Halifax is borrowing $2 million from a bank, but that can't be used for operational expenses like winter road maintenance. A lot of small towns are floating big debt since Irene came through. Across Vermont, towns still have 92 sections of roads to re-open. And 56 bridges.

(Cohen) About 60 miles north of Halifax, in Weathersfield, construction workers are shoring up a slope that leads from the Black River up to the newly reconstructed Route 106. Joe Flynn of the Vermont Agency of Transportation says Irene took a big bite out of it.

(Flynn) "It was as if some giant prehistoric creature had clawed away the road."

(Cohen) But that's nothing compared to Route 107 between Bethel and Stockbridge, where ten miles were damaged. The flood waters pulled 2,000 feet of that road into the White River

But now Route 107 is expected to reopen before the end of the year. It's the last of the state's major road reconstruction projects that's not yet finished-the only one out of 530 miles of state roads that were damaged.

Two state bridges, both in Roxbury, are still being fixed. Flynn credits the construction crews, like the Gurney Brothers, who are working into the dark here in Weathersfield.

(Dan Gurney) "Myself, my brother Doug and my brother Brad."

(Cohen) Dan Gurney, who normally uses this road, says he enjoyed fixing it.

(Dan Gurney) "I like the challenge of it. Certainly it's gratifying to look at it right know and we did it."

(Cohen) Route 106 reopened last week. Sue Minter, the deputy secretary of transportation says the rapid repairs mean there may be sink holes and frost heaves to look out for.

(Minter) "We are concerned knowing that many of these roads - restoring mobility throughout the state - meant putting roads together as quickly as we could. We know that many of these repairs were emergency and somewhat temporary in nature. So we already anticipate that we'll be going back out to do more permanent repairs."

(Cohen) Minter says the Agencies of Transportation and Natural Resources will keep a close watch this spring.

(Minter) "In many places  the rivers alongside of our roads and bridges have really re-formed dramatically  and we don't know how now to predict what spring will be like either for our river systems or the roads that they interact with."

(Cohen) One thing Vemonters can count on before spring. Come March, Town Meetings across the state will be grappling with the best way to pay for road repairs.

For VPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen.

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