A town that depends on tourists tries to make the ride a little less rough
Planning to drive through downtown Woodstock? Better check your suspension, hold your wheel tight and schedule an alignment right after your trip.
Okay, so I exaggerate — but only a little. Just as tourist season gears up to bring as many as 15,000 cars a day through downtown on Route 4, a tough winter has opened up even more potholes, fissures and bumps than usual along it and other main roads.
But don't take my word for it. See for yourself, courtesy of out fancy new Pothole Cam. Buckle your seat belt for a one-minute ride along Route 4 into downtown. (The smooth part at the end is the new Post Office bridge project.)
The Facebook page, Around Woodstock, Vermont, recently posed this question to readers: “If you were to walk through the village of Woodstock, pretending to be a tourist, what would impress you positively? What would impress you negatively?”
The people who responded had plenty of good things to say about friendly shopkeepers and residents, a tranquil Green, well-kept historic homes, covered bridges and lovely flowers, among other strong points.
But they also had some gripes — particularly about the roads.
“The road conditions both into and out of the village are embarrassing and dangerous,” wrote Michelle Adams Somerville.
“The town is beautiful and cute but the roads are a disaster!” wrote Alexa Veralli Newton. “We drove across the whole country and back and Woodstock Vt. wins for the worst roads.”
“The pothole sign is embarrassing,” wrote Melissa Conway Gebhardt. “Don’t spend $ on a sign. Just fix them.”
There’s at least partial relief in sight, says Municipal Manager Philip B. Swanson. Next week, crews will begin filling the biggest potholes on Route 4 — the wheel-swallowing, axle-snapping variety — with more routine maintenance to follow on that and other roads as summer unfolds.
“It’s an embarrassment, I agree,” Swanson said. “Route 4, in particular, is in terrible condition.”
The state route turns into a "local connector of a federal highway" on its 1.5 mile path through the village, a stretch that runs roughly from the firehouse to recreation center. Because of the road's mixed parentage, Swanson explained, the town has responsibility for maintenance (i.e. filling potholes and addressing other hazards) while the state is on the hook for repaving projects.
The last state resurfacing project on Route 4 was in 2008, with the next projected for 2020. In the meantime, Swanson says, the town does its best.
“We’ve been putting in $20,000 to $40,000 a year just to keep it serviceable,” he said. There’s $45,000 set aside for this summer’s work.
Swanson said a winter and spring with lots of snowmelt, rain and freeze-thaw cycles made the potholes proliferate. When water freezes inside an existing pothole, it expands and makes the crater even larger. Crews will come in and fill the holes with hot mix asphalt.
At the big bend at the east end of town, the guys at Lyman’s Towing & Auto have a front-row seat on the shake and rattle of cars and trucks rolling through.
“This winter it was pretty bad,” said owner Adam Lyman. “I don’t know how many tires got lost before they filled that big pothole in.”
Nothing short of repaving will solve the road woes, Lyman said.
Filling potholes is “just a temporary fix,” he said. “It seems like every time they fill in a pothole, six weeks later it’s beat up again.”
Service station owner Adam Lyman says filling potholes is just a temporary fix.
Swanson said his crews will do what they can. But he also worries about the state backing off its commitment to do the work.
“It’s probably going to be a $3 million job in 2020,” he says. “If we make it too good, the state will never come in and do it.”