Route 7 construction delayed

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Construction on the Route 2/7, 2A intersection will stretch into next summer, Vermont Agency of Transportation officials said. Above, roadwork prompted one-lane closures and an extended Route 7 detour.(Photo courtesy of VTRANS)

Construction on the Routes 7/2 and 2A intersections in Colchester will continue through August 2018, according to Vermont Agency of Transportation officials. Substantive work was originally scheduled to wrap up this month.

“It was a tight timeline to begin with, and then with delays, we’re just trying to make sure we’re not rushing it and we’re leaving it better than we found it,” VTrans project manager Erin Parizo said.

In an April presentation to the selectboard, Parizo said the project would improve mobility and safety by adding responsive traffic signals at the Bay Road and Creek Farm Road intersections, new crosswalks, pedestrian buttons, street lighting and a shared use path along a stretch of Route 2A.

Since then, drivers have navigated one-lane and total road closures and experienced traffic delays of varying lengths throughout the area as workers widened sections of the road and lowered the grade of the hill before the Bay Road intersection by about five feet.

Ongoing work prompted town

officials to move the annual 4th of July parade from Main Street to Blakely Road this summer.

Under the original timeline, Parizo said VTrans planned to come back in 2018 to establish vegetation and complete some minimal work. Unanticipated issues like a contaminated soil plume at the base of the Route 7 hill and poor subsurface conditions pushed the major work past the agency’s Dec. 1 cutoff, she said.

After a meeting with area business owners, Parizo said VTrans decided to hold off on any substantial construction until June 2018 rather than start on April 15, in an effort to have the least impact on the school district and businesses.

It was Claussen’s owner Chris Conant who first called that meeting, gravely troubled at the thought of another busy season’s sales impacted by construction.

“We do 85 percent of our year’s sales in 12 weeks, and the 12 weeks [VTrans] wanted to do construction were right in the middle,” Conant said. “I employ 50 employees and during the course of the season, that’s the height of the year. If we ruined two months, that would crucify us.”

Conant had the same discussion with officials when they wanted to start construction in spring 2017 and successfully negotiated a minor delay to the Route 7 detour.

Still, he says his sales were impacted by the work and knows other area companies felt the burden, too. He’s most concerned customers will remember the headaches they experienced last year and avoid the area altogether, come spring.

“I feel sorry not just for our residents who live around here, but our businesses,” Conant said. “I don’t know how many months of down sales we could handle without it affecting us.”

Conant gives project leaders credit, though, for doing their best to keep traffic flowing into and out of his parking lot during the much-needed overhaul. A former selectboard member, he knows how long this task has been in the works.

Before the end of the year, the VTrans team plans to install the four-way signalized light at the Bay Road intersection and will pave over affected areas of the road currently covered with gravel. Major project elements pushed until next year include the Creek Farm Road light and shared use path.

“The town and community has been waiting on it for 20 years, and we want to make sure we’re doing it right,” Parizo said.

Jill Barrett, the project’s public outreach coordinator, can be contacted at 272-1248. Weekly updates are available at bit.ly/2oGZffB.