SWANTON TOWN — The Vermont Agency of Transportation plans to send Vermont Route 78 drivers on a 70-mile detour during a culvert project toward the end of the month.
Jim Cota, of VTrans’ Maintenance and Operations Bureau, broke the news to the seemingly shocked town selectpersons at the selectboard’s meeting Tuesday.
It was advanced notice: Cota said Nov. 2 is the earliest likely project start date, and that VTrans hasn’t locked down a concrete date.
He told the board VTrans hopes the work begins around 7 p.m. on a Saturday, and that the route reopens by 6 a.m. the following Monday, minimizing the number of drivers the project will affect.
Cota said VTrans officials decided that was the best timeframe to complete the project, for drivers’ sake, avoiding the general work week traffic.
“But that doesn’t hurt any less for your local businesses,” Cota said.
It’s still an estimated 36 hours in which drivers looking to make it further north on Route 78, or enter the town or village from the north, will have to take a 70-mile detour on state roads, from that portion of 78 to U.S. Route 2 down to Interstate 89 Exit 17.
The culvert in question is in front of the West Swanton Orchard, on North River Street. Cota said the culvert might not be failing, but needs repair.
VTrans initially sought town officials’ permission to detour drivers down the Campbell Bay and Church roads during the project, but VTrans rescinded the request.
Cota said those town roads weren’t in sufficiently good shape for a detour like this, which will include heavy truck traffic.
“We would have destroyed the Middle Road for sure,” Cota told the board.
Cota said VTrans plans four different monitored turnaround points for drivers, where VTrans personnel will hand out maps of the suggested detour route — a map “that’s going to shock them,” Cota said.
Selectperson Joel Clark asked what VTrans planned to do if a driver refused to take the detour and plowed through the closed portion.
“I’m not going to stand in front of their car,” Cota said.
Cota said VTrans plans to post blue lights near its turnaround points discouraging truckers from carrying on.
He told the board the town highway department is responsible for closing the relevant portions of its own nearby roads, specifically the aforementioned Campbell Bay and Church roads.
Cota suggested town officials consider allowing local traffic only beyond the turnaround points on those town roads.
Dan Billado, the selectboard’s chair, stressed to Cota that VTrans has to get the word out about the detour. Billado expressed particular concern for those coming from Alburgh and local business owners, and guessed drivers might choose to head into Canada rather than drive an extra 70 miles.
Clark suggested town officials visit local businesses and warn them about the detour.
Cota said VTrans plans to put an electronic sign along the roadway notifying drivers of the project, along with notices in local media.
Even with the sign, Cota said, “It’s really too hard to work out the detour in three sentences on the message board.”
Still, Cota said he expects locals will have plenty of notice, but that warning commuters will be an issue.
Selectpersons suggested alternative local routes, but weight limits and road conditions precluded their viability.
Clark remembered the speed with which VTrans completed a similar project at Carry Bay, in North Hero.
“I still feel bad about that one,” Cota said, “because there was a wedding planned had lined up hotels on one side of the culvert, but the wedding was on the other side of the culvert.
“To this day I remember that and feel bad about that, so the more communication that we can do the better.”