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Shumlin Lays Out Safety Measures for Route 4 Stretch

Sue Minter, deputy secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Transportation, speaks at a news conference yesterday. Gov. Peter Shumlin, right, and (from left) Woodstock Town Manager Phil Swanson, Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, and Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Quechee, were among the local and state officials who were part of a meeting beforehand. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Sue Minter, deputy secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Transportation, speaks at a news conference yesterday. Gov. Peter Shumlin, right, and (from left) Woodstock Town Manager Phil Swanson, Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, and Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Quechee, were among the local and state officials who were part of a meeting beforehand. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

In response to three collisions on Route 4 that have claimed four lives since March, Gov. Peter Shumlin yesterday announced a series of safety measures for the state highway, including an immediate repaving and installation of rumble stripes and long-term plans to rebuild the road and perhaps redesign stretches away from the Ottauquechee River.

The announcement, details of which had emerged in recent weeks, was made after Shumlin and Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Quechee, met with Hartford police and fire officials and came as a 72-year-old West Lebanon woman remained hospitalized with severe injuries after she was involved in a collision on Route 4 in Quechee on Thursday.

“There’s just too many people dying out there, and we can’t let it continue,” Shumlin said at a news conference at the Hartford police station. “It’s our job to try to figure out solutions and a sensible path. When we lose four people in a short stretch of road, and perhaps a fifth, we’ve got a big challenge.”

While trumpeting plans to help, Shumlin and other officials cautioned that authorities are unsure of the cause behind the collisions — which have occurred within a roughly five mile stretch of the region’s primary east-west thoroughfare — and urged motorists to drive safely.

“We are going to get to work as quickly as we can,” Shumlin said. “We are asking you to (drive) slow, cautiously. Do not text, do not drive distracted. We can’t afford another fatality.”

By the end of July, officials plan to repave and install center line rumble stripes on an approximately three mile portion beginning around Interstate 89 and heading west. However, Woodstock Town Manager Phil Swanson said he expected the project would stretch closer to Route 12, which would add about two more miles.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Deputy Secretary Sue Minter said the exact details were still being determined, and the project would go out to bid next week.

The project will cost about $400,000, officials said, and come from existing state funds. The Vermont AOT had already planned to try and do the work later this year, Minter said, though they were unsure if they would have enough money once they had completed projects that had previously been deemed higher priorities.

“It wasn’t a guarantee,” Minter said in an interview. “Now we are guaranteeing it’s going to happen.”

To do that, the agency will likely have to reshuffle it’s list of priority projects, Campbell said.

Long-term, in projects that are as many as 10 years away, officials said they will use state and federal money to rebuild fully large portions of Route 4, and Minter said they will explore redesigning some of the road, to make it straighter and less prone to flooding.

Shumlin also announced AOT will immediately install portable message boards to urge drivers to drive safely.

Hartford and Woodstock officials have been pushing for rumble stripes in recent weeks, and Shumlin said that Campbell called him urging to act.

Their concern has been sparked by similar tragedies that have unfolded in rapid succession.

In a three-car collision in March, Corey Daniels, 38, of Hartford, and Nina Dimick, 63, of Woodstock died when Daniels’ car crossed the center line near the Fat Hat Factory, struck the rear wheel of a westbound utility vehicle and then collided head-on with Dimick’s vehicle.

In May, Patience Hutt, 40, of Hartland, died when her Subaru collided with an empty horse trailer near the Woodstock/Hartford town line. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.

One week later, Norma Sawyer, 84, of Bridgewater, died in West Woodstock when she collided with a box truck driving in the opposite direction. Police are still investigating that collision.

And Wednesday, 72-year-old Ingrid Neuwirt of West Lebanon was critically injured when she collided with an oncoming vehicle in Quechee.

The other driver, 43-year-old Shirley Adams, of White River Junction, sustained non-life threatening injuries and was conscious at the scene.

Officials yesterday said that Neuwirt remains in intensive care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. A DHMC spokesman said she was not on a list of patients for which they can release information, and her family could not be reached for comment.

In an interview, Hartford Public Safety Director Steve Locke said the road fixes will not be a panacea, and stressed that drivers will have to act more safely.

“The quality of the road may have had nothing to do with some of these,” Locke said. “We’re never going to stop all the fatalities.”

Hartford Deputy Police Chief Leonard Roberts said his officers have been working overtime to manage extra patrols on Route 4, and said they may have to tap into overtime funds.

“We are willing to spend some dough,” Locke said.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

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