Construction Begins on Route 9 Oxbow

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(Host) After decades of delays, work has begun on a $20 million project to correct a dangerous situation on Route 9. It’s one of Vermont’s most heavily traveled east-west truck routes.

VPR’s Susan Keese Reports.

(Keese) The long-awaited project will straighten out three and a half miles of notorious curves on Route 9 between Wilmington and Searsburg. The reconstruction will eliminate a narrow bridge over the Deerfield River that has been the scene of many accidents and highway deaths.

Sonia Alexander, the town manager in Wilmington, says there will be inconveniences, but most people in town are relieved that the project is under way:

(Alexander) “We’re just delighted that we’re finally at this point, where the improvements are being made. Every time we in this office hear more than one siren going out, we think, ‘Uh oh, something at the oxbow.’ That’s what the area is called locally, because of its shape.”

(Keese) Don Crowe is the on-site superintendent for the contractor, J.A. McDonald of Lyndon Center. He says the goal is to make the road safe:

(Crowe) “In a nutshell, it’s a total realignment of the road, to realign it for safety reasons. The road is all twisted and they want to straighten it out and get away from these curves – especially this bridge right here. You can’t take a car and truck across it at the same time.”

(Keese) About 4,000 vehicles travel this stretch of Route 9 every day. And about a tenth of those are tractor trailers.

State officials have been promising to fix the problem since at least the early eighties. An earlier design that would have relocated the river was opposed by environmental groups. Details of the new plan include three new bridges and the removal of thousands of truck loads of rock and earth.

The work right now consists mainly of clearing, so delays are minimal. Wilmington Town Manager Alexander says the public will be kept informed as the project proceeds:

(Alexander) “There will be traffic delays… but both the contractor and the state are doing a really good job of informing people, I believe. They’ll have signs up in Brattleboro and here, and Bennington and I believe north of here to advise people so that they can take a different route if they like.”

(Keese) The contractor has promised regular notices about delays in local newspapers and on radio and TV. The project is expected to be finished in the fall of 2003.

For Vermont Public Radio, I m Susan Keese in Searsburg.

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