It’s staggering to imagine that Route 7 carries nearly 14,000 vehicles daily through Charlotte. The roadway is undergoing major renovation work to reflect its function as a major north-south commuter artery.
The project is a $20 million three-mile road reconstruction and shoulder-widening plan; construction is entering its second summer. The project is on time and is scheduled for completion in July 2018, said Francine Perkins, project outreach coordinator with FRP Enterprises, LLC. She is working as a consultant with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
The work involves widening the asphalt from about 28 feet to 42, but the highway will continue to be only two lanes, one northbound and one southbound. The major changes involve the road shoulders, which will grow from narrow bands to a width of 8 feet.
This week, crews will start reconstructing the section of Route 7 behind the barriers between the Charlotte Berry Farm and the Wildwood West Development, Perkins said.
Because of rainy weather the week of May 29, paving had to be postponed until the week of June 12, Perkins said.
Reconstruction between the Ferrisburgh-Charlotte town line and State Park Road to the north is complete. The last portion of road under construction, which is currently underway, ends at the Ferry Road intersection.
The project has both critics and supporters.
At a number of Charlotte Selectboard meetings, residents expressed concern about cars speeding through town. At the same time, town officials note that some commuters are getting off Route 7 to use the town’s roads in order to avoid construction delays.
Duker Bower, a co-owner of the Inn at Charlotte Bed & Breakfast, likes the project. He likes the idea of a wider shoulder and a tunnel that will allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross under Route 7.
“I think it’s safer, and I think it’s prettier, too,” Bower said. “People complain about the trees cut down, and the shoulders are an improvement, and so is the tunnel underneath.”
The tunnel will allow pedestrians, bicyclists, and cross-country skiers to get across the busy roadway without having to battle traffic.
Bill Fraser-Harris, chairman of the Charlotte Recreation Commission, hopes the new tunnel will encourage people to get out and use the town’s network of trails.
Michael Bissonette, co-owner of The Dutch Mill Family Restaurant on Route 7 in Shelburne, said the business gets a fair share of customers who travel through the construction zone.
“I drove through it last week, and it seemed like a roller coaster,” he said, but he recalls the traffic snarls and general disruptions when similar upgrades were done to the highway in Shelburne.
He also pointed out that his business didn’t receive a curb cut, so potential customers headed south on Route 7 have to use a traffic turnaround on the right side of the road to get to his restaurant.
In Vermont, Route 7 runs for 176 miles, from Bennington in the southwest corner up to Rutland and then through Burlington to points north. For most of its length, it is a two-lane rural road, but the state has made major upgrades north of Bennington and in the Rutland area.