Heading north from Montpelier on Vermont 12, particularly after dark, it’s easy to get lost.
For the next 20 miles, the state’s Agency of Transportation has installed only one route marker. From Montpelier to Worcester, a distance of 7.2 miles, there are none. From Worcester, it’s another 12.8 miles until an age-dimmed sign appears: “North, Vermont 12.”
At Morrisville, a few miles farther north, a driver coming from the south on Vermont 12 is given no direction to Vermont 15, which cuts through town east to west (drivers from the north do have a sign).
The Transportation Agency, with its own culture of highway safety, informational signage and markings, provides inconsistent guidance to drivers traveling the 3,200 miles of Vermont’s two-lane state highways.
Two road inspections by the Burlington Free Press in late May of nearly 350 miles of state highways (not including Interstate 89) in north-central and northwest Vermont demonstrated that markings the Federal Highways Administration’s rule book, the massive Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, calls “essential” frequently are absent or rare on Vermont’s highways.
The manual, usually referred to as the MUTCD, sets minimum national standards for traffic-control devices.
The tours showed that painted road markings, the crucial center line (yellow) and edge lines (white) are badly worn by winter plowing, and that edge lines, particularly, often were dim even in daytime.
For mile after mile on Vermont’s winding mountain roads, curves are rarely warned; road shoulders are unreliable and disappear without warning; guard rails are unpredictably placed, with many fall-offs unwarned; and even speed signs, which provide drivers with safety guidance, generally disappear beyond village limits.
In a state that depends on tourism for much of its income, the Transportation Agency typically does not provide signs that name rivers and streams state roads cross, and in some cases does not even name villages.
The agency’s director of project development, Rich Tetreault, responding to the Free Press findings, said sign placement is an issue the agency takes “very seriously.” “In terms of highway signage,” Tetreault said in a written response to Free Press questions, “VTrans follows the guidance of the MUTCD and state law. … All signage, including regulatory and warning signage … is carefully reviewed, designed and installed on our highways.”