Editorial: Route 4 Safety
Even before a recent spate of fatal traffic accidents, anyone who regularly travels Route 4 between Woodstock and Hartford knew that the road was dangerous and seemed to be getting more so. In the wake of four motorists’ deaths since the beginning of March, fire and police chiefs in the two towns are advocating safety improvements that are welcome and make sense, but which the chiefs concede won’t solve the problem by themselves. That may take a more comprehensive approach.
As staff writers Maggie Cassidy and Jon Wolper have reported this month, the public safety officials are suggesting the installation of rumble strips along the center line of sections of Route 4. Such strips are perhaps more familiar to motorists when they are installed along the shoulders of interstate highways, where indentations in the pavement cause vibrations and noise when tires pass over the grooves, alerting motorists that they have drifted out of a safe travel lane. The Vermont Department of Transportation started installing them on center lines in 2009, and Ken Robie, program manager for Highway Safety and Design at the department, told Cassidy that, “We’re convinced both from our own data and from nationwide data that they work from a safety standpoint.”
Given that crossing the center line has been implicated in some of the recent fatalities; that installation of rumble strips is relatively cheap (between $500 and $1,000 a mile when done as part of larger road projects); and that repaving is already scheduled this summer for a badly deteriorated 3.5 mile section of the road between Exit 1 of Interstate 89 and Deweys Mills Road in Quechee, installing them without delay seems to be eminently sensible.
While repaving and the addition of rumble strips along the center line would be a help, they are by no means going to address all the problems. The main one is that because of its physical limitations, the road is ill suited to play its assigned role as a main east-west corridor in the state. It is heavily traveled by both local and through traffic, with the speed limits serving as an uneasy compromise between the very different needs of those driving constituencies.
Route 4 is relatively narrow, with a succession of gentle curves that subtly encourage vehicle drift over the center line. Because of natural barriers, many sections have tight shoulders, which means the travel lanes are uncomfortably close to the guard rails. And if a motorist runs into trouble, there is often no room to swerve out of the way. For those familiar with the road, bicyclists and joggers add to the white-knuckle sensation of traveling it, but out-of-state drivers often seem blissfully unaware of its dangers.
We do not pretend to have the answers to all these deficiencies, but a few things occur to us. One is whether the installation of stop lights at a couple of key intersections along Route 4, such as the one at Waterman Hill in Quechee, might make it safer for local traffic to enter and exit the road, which is increasingly a hair-raising experience at times of heavy traffic. Another is to review speed limits along the whole section from Hartford to Woodstock, with an eye to adjusting them for safe travel. Finally local and regional planners should think long and hard about whether the infrastructure is adequate, or can be made adequate, to handle significant further development along that corridor. It may be that Route 4 has reached the point of no return.