by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist
EAST HARDWICK – The future of School Street after it collapsed during the July flood was one of the topics of conversation at the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization’s (EHNO) annual meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
Previous to the flood, there were many known, but unresolved, traffic and pedestrian safety concerns on School Street. These included truck traffic and speeding, combined with the lack of sidewalks and the amount of local pedestrian and bicycle traffic mostly going to D&L Market at the end of School Street. These issues, along with speeding on Vermont Route 16 (Vt. Rte. 16) and line of sight issues at the Main Street intersection are familiar to local residents and to Hardwick’s select board. These issues were previously brought to the attention of the town by EHNO in a letter in June of 2019; in a study by Local Motion, which was completed in August of 2021; and in the AARP Walkability Study completed by the Hardwick Planning Commission in May of 2022.
During the July flood, the hillside adjacent to School Street slid into the ravine, eroding land beside and under School Street. Between the intersection with Vt. Rte. 16 and Mini Mart Drive there are three places where the road’s surface has collapsed. In the months since the flood, neighbors report that the hillside has continued to erode, enlarging the part of School Street that is compromised. Currently the town has closed the area using temporary barriers.
The collapse has changed the physical situation on School Street but, according to those at the meeting, many of the same issues and concerns remain. The twenty-two residents of the East Hardwick area who came together at the Grange Hall for the EHNO meeting discussed both temporary and longer-term improvements. The first part of the discussion focused on keeping the street permanently closed.
Joyce Mandeville, who lives on School Street, stated that “I don’t want to see my town spending millions of dollars to fix this.” Another resident said that “It’s a waste of tax payer money to repair this street.” Some noted that the street should be stabilized so it is safe and does not continue to erode, even if the intersection with Vt. Rte. 16 is permanently closed.
Of immediate concern was the danger that exists when vehicles drive around the barriers and pass through the unstable portion of the road. Another problem mentioned was the use of Mini Mart Drive, a private street, as a cut-through between Vt. Rte. 16 and School Street, with the need for traffic calming and pedestrian safety on Mini Mart Drive also being a concern. A resident of School Street noted that “despite the closure of the intersection, vehicles still speed on School Street.”
As the group moved to the discussion of fixes after the landslide, problems with the intersection of Main Street and Vt. Rte 16 were introduced. Use of the Vt. Rte. 16 and School Street intersection is preferred by local drivers headed towards, or coming from, the direction of Greensboro Bend, including truck drivers, who would have to use the intersection on Main Street.
The Main Street intersection has its own line-of-sight issues, made more dangerous by the speed of traffic on Vt. Rtel 16. With the School Street intersection closed, it was expressed that fixing the Main Street intersection should be an important priority. As stated by John Buscemi of Belfry Road, “there is no good solution for School Street until the issues with the Main Street intersection are addressed.” Members of the group expressed the need to reduce the speed limit on that section of Vt. Rte. 16, to cut back trees and brush to increase visibility, and suggested widening Main Street at the intersection to make it easier for large trucks to turn the corner.
Residents emphasized the current dangers of driving on the damaged area of School Street. They mentioned the urgency of installing permanent, unmovable barriers to prevent vehicles from driving around the temporary barriers. Other suggestions included adding a sign at the water tub to indicate the street is not a through street and installing speed bumps on Mini Mart Drive.
A proposal to close the intersection between Mini Mart Drive and School Street in a way that left it open to those walking or riding bikes to D&L Market was positively supported. It was pointed out that D&L, residences on Mini Mart Drive, and the apartment house next door all have direct access to Vt. Rte 16. This led to a proposal to make School Street a cul-de-sac, ending somewhere before Mini Mart Drive and perhaps providing room for a small green space or park.
In an email to the EHNO, a resident who lives on Mini Mart Drive commented that closing off School Street “sounds great to me because it avoids all vehicle traffic coming through that way to D&L especially with pothole issues and speeding.”
At the meeting, Tracy Martin, Hardwick’s planning coordinator, explained that the Village Master Plan Project, slated to begin this winter and last for about 12 months, should address long-term plans and propose solutions for School Street, including walkability and traffic calming.
When asked for a comment, Hardwick Town Manager David Upson wrote “We’re still tossing around some ideas about what to do. According to the state geologist, a rehab of that bank would be in the millions of dollars.”
Prior to the Hardwick Select Board meeting on October 5, the EHNO sent an email to the board containing a synopsis of the conversation from their annual meeting. Both Upson and Ceilidh Kane, a select board member who lives in East Hardwick, thanked the organization for its input and said it was helpful.
During the select board meeting, Tom Fadden of the town’s public works department reported that the town has Jersey barriers on order and that some of them will be used at the intersection of School and Vt. Rte 16, solving the problem of cars driving around the current barriers. Upson read parts of the email from the EHNO and the board discussed exploring ways to approach mitigation, rather than restoration, of the bank. Ceilidh Kane explained the issues with the Main Street intersection and Fadden said he would take a look at it.