(Host) People are once again able to "get there from here" — at least in Rutland County and many places beyond.
Route 4 reopened quietly today. The governor will hold a more formal ribbon cutting ceremony tomorrow.
As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, the road’s closure and quick repair has stirred up a lot of emotions for the people who depend on it.
(Keck) Doug Casella drives a Ford 250. The last two weeks, that truck has been his home away from home. As President of Casella Construction, he’s helped lead the effort to rebuild Route 4 – a job he initially told the governor would probably take two weeks.
(Casella) "When you’ve got local contractors – you’ve got Vermont contractors that have lived in that area. . . . everybody on that site knew that it had to get done fast and it got done. And it got done because guys really cared about making sure that road got opened."
(Casella) "You get it all graded up? Alright. Keep it up."
(Keck) Casella passes several members of the National Guard. He says without their trucks and heavy equipment, Route 4 wouldn’t be reopening this week.
He says they also got lucky not having to truck-in fill material from far away. Instead, huge 40- and 60-ton dump trucks were able to haul the sediment, rocks and run-off that had piled up down stream back up to the road.
(Casella) "That project, when it gets all done will, probably cost the state a third of what it would if it was bid. "
(Keck) While the highway may be open, it doesn’t’ look like it used to. There’s still lots of heavy equipment and orange cones. Just two lanes are open – so traffic moves slowly. John Casella, CEO of Casella Waste Management, says the third lane won’t open for a while, because workers are still putting in a permanent sewer pipe that runs alongside it.
What motorists may have to be most careful of is not gawking at the enormous gash carved out by Mendon Brook – a stream that looks remarkably tiny to have caused so much trouble. John Casella:
(Casella) "The beauty of what’s happened here is this whole community has come together and you have 5 construction companies, the AOT, national guard – everyone has come together and that’s the reason why we’ve been able to achieve what we’ve been able to achieve. This happened because guys were working 24 hours a day to get this done. You have to take your hat off to Vermonters because we roared back. "
(Keck) Just down the road at Sugar and Spice, a popular breakfast spot in Mendon, Lynn Manney, one of the owners says they’ve been flipping a lot fewer pancakes. Like many business owners in the area, she was worried about how long the road would be closed.
(Manney) "Obviously we we’re thrilled that it will be open before foliage season. They’ve done amazing amounts of work in a very short period of time."
(Keck) Besides area business owners, no one is probably more pleased to see Route 4 open than the thousands of people who’ve been stranded one on side or the other.
Chris Danforth lives in Rutland but works in Killington as the ski resort’s marketing manager. For the past two and a half weeks, he’s gotten to his office in a special convoy that left Rutland at 6 every morning.
(Danforth) "I tell you it’s going to be nice to sleep in. I like to work late and not get up so early. And get home to the family at a reasonable time and start to get back to a normal life a little bit."
(Keck) Driving along Route 4 near Killington, Danforth says despite the hassles of complicated commutes, the storm and road closures have had an upside.
(Danforth) "There’s much more of a family vibe around town. People taking care of the neighbors. When I came to pick you up, I’m driving up and I see a guy hitchhiking on the side of the road and I’m like, ‘I gotta stop and pick that guy up.’ Where as pre-Irene, I would have been like, ‘Oh, I don’t know – if I should …’"
(Keck) Back in his truck, Doug Casella turns north toward Stockbridge and Route 107. While it’s great to reopen Route 4, he says he hasn’t had time to celebrate.
(Casella) "No, we’re on to the next one. There’s still people out here that don’t have – that can’t get to their houses. So, no, we’re not popping any champagne yet. Maybe when the snow flies."
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.
(Host) One other note on the reopening of Route 4. Those two lanes that are now open are actually paved. Some of the other highways that have reopened since the flood are still dirt and gravel. But there’s pavement again for the drive up Sherburne Pass.