Towns and college call for Rt. 125 safety, ask for ledge removal at crash site
MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury has joined Bridport, Cornwall and Middlebury College in urging the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to “immediately” make major safety improvements to a notorious stretch of Route 125 near Cider Mill Road where a Shoreham man was killed following a collision with a fire truck on Sept. 9.
Municipal and college officials are specifically calling on VTrans to remove — or at least lower — a small ledge outcropping alongside Route 125, just to the west of the college and Middlebury Village, at the Middlebury/Cornwall town line.
“The ledge knoll, while not very big, creates a serious safety hazard for drivers, bikers and walkers in the area of the college’s food gardens,” reads a proposed letter from Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee to VTrans Secretary Joseph Flynn. “The knoll creates a blind spot in this otherwise relatively flat section of road that is not readily apparent to most drivers.”
It was at this location that a vehicle driven by 44-year-old Deane Rubright collided with a Cornwall Fire Department utility vehicle last month. Investigators said Rubright had pulled to the side of Route 125 to let a large fire truck pass. When he pulled back onto Route 125, he couldn’t see the trailing utility truck bearing down on him, nor could the driver of the fire truck see him in time to stop, according to Vermont State Police.
“Our communities’ reactions to this accident have been significant,” Lougee wrote to Flynn. “This is just the most recent in a string of fatalities on this portion of Route 125. Older residents of each community independently pointed out that there have been a number of other fatalities in the vicinity of this ledge.”
Lougee told the Independent that “crash information over the years is unfortunately more anecdotal than ‘hard info,’” so he was unable to provide historical data on accidents at or near the location where Rubright died.
Still, the anecdotal evidence of crashes at that spot is powerful.
Steve Huestis, a former Bridport selectboard chair, told Lougee, “In my lifetime too many people have lost their lives at that hill. In December 2002 two adults, one child and twin unborn babies died in an accident there. When I was in school a college student lost their life when hit by a car.”
Cornwall Road Commissioner Brian Kemp reported losing a friend to this stretch of highway.
And VTrans’ District 5 Project Manager Richard Hosking added “some years ago,” two state employees were hit while working on Route 125 in the vicinity of where Rubright perished, according to Lougee.
Two Brothers Tavern co-owner Holmes Jacobs turned out at Tuesday’s Middlebury selectboard meeting to urge the panel to push for the Route 125 safety repairs.
“That’s been a tough stretch for a long time,” Jacobs said. “I know it’s not easy work to just take (the ledge) out; obviously, this is the beginning of a long process.”
Given the time it might take for VTrans action on the request, Selectwoman Heather Seeley said the communities should also advocate for shorter-term measures to make Route 125 safer near its intersection with Cider Mill Road. She cited decreasing the speed limit (from the current 40 mph), posting warning signs and narrowing the road as steps VTrans could take while preparing to remove the ledge.
“While I don’t disagree (with a big project), I feel it’s a really long way out,” she said.
The selectboard on Tuesday agreed to advise Lougee to add a sentence to his letter urging Flynn to also consider short-term safety measures.
Meanwhile, Selectwoman Laura Asermily urged drivers themselves to be more careful on that stretch of Route 125.
“I’d just like to encourage that one thing we could all do is slow down,” Asermily said. “I know that distractedness is a growing concern of all our users — motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.