VTrans’ $600,000 COVID-19 sign blitz targets travel into Vermont

  • One of the state’s new COVID-19 alert signs greets visitors at the Interstate 91 welcome center in Guilford, Vt. (VtDigger - Kevin O’Connor)

  • Some of the state’s new COVID-19 road signs are aimed at Vermonters crossing into Massachusetts, New York and, pictured here, New Hampshire. (VtDigger - Kevin O’Connor)

Published: 12/3/2020 10:19:00 PM
Modified: 12/3/2020 10:18:49 PM

GUILFORD, Vt. — Vermont’s fight against COVID-19 has a new driving force: the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which has unveiled $600,000 worth of federally funded signs at border entrances and highway exits.

“We’re trying to get people’s attention,” chief engineer Wayne Symonds said of the push to promote the state website healthvermont.gov. “This is just part of the overall strategy.”

VTrans rolled out solar-powered electronic signs this spring and summer to flash pandemic alerts, only to find that the recent shorter, colder days were taking a toll on the batteries. And so it has installed 329 metal signs over the past two weeks, informing travelers to and from the state about isolation guidelines.

“This type of effort is unprecedented,” Symonds said, “but these are unusual times.”

Vermont has boasted the nation’s lowest rate of coronavirus cases for months, but its numbers rose enough this fall to prompt new, stricter standards, including a 14-day quarantine for anyone who travels into or returns from outside the state.

Gov. Phil Scott asked people to stay put this past Thanksgiving week, citing concern that infections could double from a recent one-day high of 148 cases.

Motorists appeared to take heed. At the Interstate 91 welcome center in Guilford — the state’s busiest rest area — Thanksgiving-week traffic fell by almost 80%, from 12,522 visitors last fall to 2,864 this year.

Those who did venture forth most often pointed to family.

“We gave it very serious thought,” said one Connecticut father on his way to visit grown children in Vermont. “We’re very careful and going nowhere but there.”

“We decided it was OK as long as we practiced good protocol,” added a second parent doing the same. “We’re not going to a disco or nightclub.”

Others cited the need to pick up students from college or to free younger children from the house. One Connecticut family off to a Bennington County rental pointed to their vehicle, which was packed with groceries.

“We brought everything with us,” said the man beside his wife, son and daughter.

VTrans has placed its new signs on state highways at the borders of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Canada, as well as at rest areas, airports and interstate exits from Brattleboro to Burlington.

Scott, responding to questions at a recent press conference, said people shouldn’t read too much into the seemingly permanent nature of the signs.

“We got them up within a week or two, so we could very easily take them down in a week or two,” the governor said. “They’re just much more efficient and cost-effective than the solar-operated electronic ones.”

VTrans added that the aluminum signs can be easily recycled.

Said Symonds: “We’re hoping they’re temporary.”




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