Bennington and Windham Counties Celebrate Safer Route 9

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(Host) A highway project more that 20 years in the works marked its official completion on Tuesday. VPR’s Susan Keese was at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Route 9 in Wilmington, and she files this report.

(Keese) A four mile stretch of dangerous curves on Route 9 between Wilmington and Searsburg is now safer and more beautiful. That was the assessment of state and local officials gathered at the once-notorious passage between Windham and Bennington counties. It’s one of the state’s most heavily traveled truck routes.

Before the repairs, transportation officials say, roughly every six months a tractor trailer overturned on the narrow curves.

Wilmington State Representative Bob Rusten was among those who pushed the project to completion.

(Rusten) “People would come into the area and complain about the road and a lot of people drive to Bennington from this area and you took your life in your hands. And so we really felt that for the safety of the community, this road needed to be upgraded and improved.”

(Keese) The project took two years and cost about $22 million. Motorists experienced some inconveniences but officials say the hardest part was the planning, which goes back at least to the early 1980s. The original design called for re-routing the Deerfield River. In the final project, the river follows its own course, and three new bridges provide a wider, but still picturesque crossing.

Speaking at the opening, Governor Jim Douglas, praised the compromise that created five acres of new wetlands for the wetlands that the project disturbed.

(Douglas) “These major infrastructure projects are important to the state’s economic future and are priorities of my administration. We’ve fallen behind on a number of projects in the recent past and we’re working hard to catch up and complete them.”

(Keese) Douglas said his administration was pushing hard to complete the Bennington ByPass, the region’s next big highway project.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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