Truckers must 'chain-up' in snow


BENNINGTON - Truck drivers will have to put snow chains on their tires before traversing Route 9 in snowy and icy conditions, officials say.

And they now have two new designated pull-off areas in Bennington and Wilmington to do so.

Jackknifed and stuck trucks have caused crashes, injuries and road closures on Route 9, which has steep grades and windy turns that are made more challenging in the winter.

The completed "chain-up" areas will allow truckers to pull over and apply the chains so they have better control as they drive over the mountain, according to Rob Faley, district administrator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).

"It also keeps traffic moving which helps support the economy of Vermont and the safety of all motorists," Faley said.

The state will require snow chains during winter weather if vehicles weigh 26,000 pounds or more. That includes tractor trailer units, large mobile homes and coach buses. Drivers can put on and take off chains at either pull-off on Route 9. The Bennington site is near the corner of Barney Road, about half a mile east of the intersection of Routes 9 and 279. The Wilmington site is west of downtown, near the "Oxbow" and marina on the Harriman Reservoir.

Drivers will be notified about chain-up requirements through light-up roadside message boards, in addition to the Vermont 511 travel information system and social media like Twitter, Faley said. The VTrans regional office and local law enforcement have the authority to declare a winter weather chain-up order. Last weekend's snow and ice was the first enforceable storm, Faley said.

The pull-offs are "in response to a well-documented issue... with big trucks getting stuck during snow storms," according to Scott Rogers, director of maintenance and operations with VTrans. He said they are the first pull-offs of their kind in Vermont that he's aware of.

Local lawmakers and residents had asked for ways to improve safety on Route 9, a winding route connecting Bennington with Brattleboro. A law passed in 2009 allows transportation, public safety and Department of Motor Vehicles officials to designate roads on which large vehicles must use chains in wintry conditions, but required drivers have adequate space to put them on their tires. VTrans designated two chain-up areas in late 2014: The Bennington Welcome Center on the Route 279 interchange, and the Wilmington site.

The new pull-offs were constructed this summer and fall. Both have space for six tractor trailers. The state agreed to pay the town of Bennington $40,000 for a 5.59-acre parcel once slated to be a solar array. The Bennington site was estimated to cost about $175,000 for grading, paving and signage. The Wilmington site, which used an old alignment of Route 9, was estimated to cost about $5,000 for line painting and new signs. Final costs are expected to be known in the spring when landscaping is completed, Faley said.

"The new area in Bennington is better because it is located directly on the route and captures vehicles from all directions," Faley said. "Also, it requires truckers to travel less distance with chains on to get to the critical area (Woodford Mountain)."

Seven digital message boards are being used to communicate to truck drivers, Faley said. Five of the signs alert drivers that snow chains are required. Two are on the north and south approaches of Route 7. A third is located west of the Bennington site and a fourth, east of the Wilmington site; while a fifth is on Route 279. The remaining two boards are on Route 9 and will remind drivers to remove the chains.

The chain requirements will be enforced by VTrans DMV enforcement unit and the police, VTrans officials say.

A failure to use snow chains carries a $1,000 fine, according to state statute. That fine grows to $2,000 if the violation "results in substantially impeding the flow of traffic on a highway." And for a second or subsequent violation in a three-year period, the fines double.

Reach Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.


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