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Vermont Sets Lower and Consistent Speed Limit Along Route 4

This area of Route 4 in Woodstock, as well as an area in Quechee will soon be changed from 50 to 45 miles per hour. 
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

This area of Route 4 in Woodstock, as well as an area in Quechee will soon be changed from 50 to 45 miles per hour. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Woodstock — The state of Vermont is reducing speed limits along Route 4 between Bridgewater and Hartford to smooth out changes in speed and give drivers more time to react in emergencies along a state highway where five people died in car accidents last year.

Most of the speed limits, including all 50 mph zones, will drop by 5 mph to 45 mph. In addition, while there are now 19 different speed zones along the 23-mile stretch, the state will lower the number of transitions to 16, Vermont Agency of Transportation engineer Bruce Nyquist said Thursday.

“We’re looking for a consistent view for drivers so that drivers will know exactly what to expect as they’re coming into different sections,” Nyquist said.

To keep the speeds consistent, a section of Route 4 on the western end of Bridgewater and another, near Route 5 in Hartford, will rise from 40 mph to 45 mph. Where the road slows to 25 mph — while passing through Woodstock, for example — the speed limits will remain the same, Woodstock Police Chief Robbie Blish said.

Five people died in accidents along Route 4 between Bridgewater and Hartford in the first half of 2013, prompting Gov. Peter Shumlin to implement a number of safety measures for the highway, including an increased police presence and the installation of rumble strips along the center line.

Since then, the state has added rumble strips east of Woodstock, which “have been effective in reducing the number of crashes,” Blish said.

The Agency of Transportation planned to add rumble strips to the highway west of Woodstock, too, Nyquist said, though he didn’t know when officials would do so. At least one serious collision has taken place on that stretch of road this year, in which a driver fell asleep and crossed the center line, Blish said.

Yet none of the crashes in Blish’s jurisdiction had been related to speed this year, he said.

“A lot of this is people are texting or on their cellphones or they reach to grab something,” Windsor County Sheriff Mike Chamberlain said. “I think a fair amount of the time it’s a little bit of both.”

Blish said the hope for the lower limits was to give drivers more reaction time to avoid a collision, but not all motorists were convinced that it would make a difference.

“Five miles an hour? I don’t think so,” Mike Sands, of Woodstock, said on Thursday while filling up at the Cumberland Farms near the center of town.

“It makes sense for this stretch, at least, because of all the turns,” he said.

Some of the fatal accidents involved collisions where a motorist crossed the center line and, at the time, officials stressed that in addition to the safety measures, drivers would have to take more care on Route 4.

The decrease in speed limits came about after the Agency of Transportation collected data on accidents along the highway and consulted with the police who patrol it. Once the Vermont Traffic Committee voted to approve the change, the agency ordered new signs.

By lowering the speed limit, police and state officials hope to do more than encourage drivers to listen to reason.

“It’s just trying to get people to slow down and making it safe for everybody,” Chamberlain said.

The changes will take effect after the state puts up new signs, which Nyquist estimated would take about a month.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.