Police: Route 4 Patrols Working

More Tickets Issued; Accidents Decline

Ralph Fuller of Wilk Paving does prep work along Route 4 in Hartford, Vt. on Sept. 4, 2013. Paving on Route 4 will start next week.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Ralph Fuller of Wilk Paving does prep work along Route 4 in Hartford, Vt. on Sept. 4, 2013. Paving on Route 4 will start next week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — After automobile accidents on Route 4 killed five people in three months earlier this year, state and local authorities announced a coordinated effort to slow traffic and make the road safer.

So far, officials say, it appears to be working.

Since the last fatal accident in early June, there have been no serious accidents on the road, and less than a dozen fender-benders, Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brad Vail said.

Also, an Agency of Transportation project to improve safety in the corridor began this week, and the Hartford Police Department has learned that it has enough funds to continue increased patrols for several more weeks.

Officials are cautiously optimistic that the positive trend could continue. Police credit increased traffic patrols and the public’s awareness of the fatalities — which prompted extensive media coverage and a press conference in which Gov. Peter Shumlin announced a series of safety initiatives — for the downturn in accidents.

“The way I see things is that, whatever has happened has slowed (cars) down,” Vail said. “We’re seeing traffic slowing down. The word has gotten out.”

Thanks to an appropriation of $20,000 — $4,000 from the Vermont Governor’s Highway Safety Fund and $16,000 from the town — Hartford police have conducted 25 to 40 hours a week of extra traffic patrols. Officers have worked overtime shifts devoted exclusively to patrolling Route 4, Vail said. Vermont State Police have also provided one shift a week on Route 4.

The extra patrols aren’t just for show. In August, Hartford police issued 111 traffic tickets and 166 warnings on Route 4. In August 2012, they handed out just five tickets, and 20 warnings.

“Just having a police presence makes people more on guard, whether it’s speeding or staying in the lane,” Vail said.

The $20,000 was expected to fund extra patrols through Labor Day, but Vail said there is enough money left to maintain the enhanced presence through fall foliage season, when Route 4 is a major thoroughfare for tourists heading to Quechee and Woodstock.

Woodstock Police Chief Robbie Blish could not be reached for comment.

Between March and June, five people died in a string of head-on collisions on Route 4, which has sharp curves, narrow shoulders and steep embankments that compel some motorists to drift toward the center line.

On Thursday, the AOT began preparations for a repaving project that will stretch from Woodstock village to the intersection with Route 5 in White River Junction, AOT Program Manager Ken Robie said.

Workers have already replaced guardrails, and after the repaving, crews will install rumble stripes and repaint fog lines in an effort to make the road safer.

The $400,000 project is expected to take about four weeks.

Over the next 10 years, the AOT plans to completely rebuild road to make it straighter and eliminate banks and ruts.

Vail said it is too soon to declare that police patrols have made a lasting impact, and he is concerned that a smoother surface could encourage some drivers to speed up.

“The adage is when you repave a highway, it becomes a race track,” Vail said. “Sometime, it’s good to have a road with a lot of bumps. People don’t go flying through.”

Valley News Staff Writer Jordan Cuddemi contributed to this report. Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.