Hartford Opts To Reopen Closed Street

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2018 12:24:22 AM
Modified: 9/12/2018 8:19:56 AM

White River Junction — The Selectboard on Tuesday voted unanimously to reopen a section of Gates Street that has been closed for nine months.

The 400-foot stretch of Gates Street, connecting Fairview Terrace with downtown White River Junction, was closed in December because of concerns about an aging retaining wall on the street.

Under the recommendation of Public Works Director Hannah Tyler, Gates Street will be opened to one-way traffic downhill — traveling along the lane closest to the retaining wall in question — while the opposite lane will be maintained as a pedestrian route. The two lanes will be separated by jersey barriers.

The plan also would include a crosswalk on Fairview Terrace and the addition of several speed bumps that Tyler said may deter motorists from using the road as a shortcut to access downtown from Route 5 South. Asphalt will be used to patch up several sinkholes in the pavement along the stretch.

The project will cost the town less than $15,000, according to Tyler, much less than another option that would have brought in three temporary traffic signals to regulate one-way traffic alternating in both directions as well as traffic turning out of Maplewood Terrace, at the bottom of the current closure. The three signals would have cost about $103,500 for new models and about $20,000 less than that for used ones, according to a report by the town’s Public Works Department. Rented signals would have cost more than $8,000 monthly.

Tyler hopes the temporary solution will buy the town about two years as it continues to work with a consulting firm to establish movement data of the retaining wall, as well as a Lebanon-based instrument supplier to install electronic traffic loggers and collect usage data. Public Works determined that if only one lane is to be opened, downhill travel was a safer option than uphill.

“We felt like this option keeps safety in mind and is a cost-effective way to keep a pedestrian walkway while opening the road up to some traffic flow,” Tyler said during a break in the Selectboard meeting.

Sixty-five percent of responders to a still-open online survey have said they’d prefer to see some form of reopening of the stretch, while 35 percent wanted to maintain its closure, Tyler said during the presentation. The latter viewpoint coincides with that of Fairview Terrace resident Heather Potter, who said the street has become increasingly dangerous as more motorists utilize it to get to and from downtown.

“I’m really disappointed. I wanted to see it stay closed,” Potter said at intermission, shortly after the Selectboard’s vote. “It’s a 25 mph zone, but drivers just aren’t respectful of it. A lot of families with young children have moved to the neighborhood in the last several years, and it’s not safe for them to be out riding bikes with the traffic that the road has been seeing lately.”

Other Fairview Terrace residents were glad to see the stretch reopened. Timothy Maclam, a 29-year Fairview Terrace resident, told the Selectboard that he didn’t like having to use alternate routes such as Route 5 or Sykes Mountain Avenue to get to his favorite pizza shop, which is downtown.

“If I want the world’s best pizza, it’s now a 4-mile round trip,” Maclam said. “I’d like to see it opened at least one way, and would like to see a sidewalk on that stretch. When I first moved here, there was one, and it kind of deteriorated into the abyss.”

Christine Davison, who lives on Fairview Terrace with her husband, David, said she was “thrilled” the road would be reopened, even one-way.

“I’m so happy about it, and I’m glad it’s going to be open going down,” she said. “When you try to go up it in the winter, you’re much more likely to skid.”

Selectman Alan Johnson wondered if the purchase of light signals could be used on more of a long-term basis, and Selectman Dick Grassi asked if they might be used for other projects once removed from Gates Street.

Tyler said she wasn’t certain of the longevity of the battery-operated devices, saying that they’re designed for shorter periods, such as emergency closures. In response to Grassi’s inquiry, Tyler noted that the lights could be saved for future uses, but would need to be reprogrammed to sync with the desired traffic pattern of any new project.

In the end, the board voted, 7-0, to reopen the area for single-lane traffic, meaning there was no need for the traffic signals.

“It keeps the area safe, and it will be a benefit to the town (to reopen one way),” Selectboard Chairman Simon Dennis said during intermission.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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