College and Neighboring Towns Demand Safety Measures at Rt. 125 Crash Site

By NICOLE POLLACK

Michael Borenstein/The Middlebury Campus
A dangerous portion of Route 125 runs from Cider Mill Road, pictured, to the college.

A month after the latest death in a string of fatal accidents occurring on a stretch of Route 125 between the college and Cider Mill Road in Cornwall, Vermont towns are joining forces to advocate for increased safety measures. This call comes on the heels of the death of Deane Rubright, 44, of Shoreham, who was killed in a car accident on a section of the road near The Knoll last month. 

On Sept. 13, Rubright pulled over to allow a fire truck to pass, but he and the driver of a second approaching fire truck were unable to see one another as Rubright pulled back onto the road. The Middlebury Selectboard unanimously approved increased safety measures on Oct. 9 regarding the part of Route 125 in question, joining Cornwall and Bridport in signing a letter to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) encouraging the removal of a perilous roadside ledge near The Knoll. 

Adam Lougee, director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC), drafted the letter to VTrans on behalf of the ACRPC’s Transportation Advisory Committee and shared it with the three towns’ Selectboards. The letter identifies a knoll (distinct from the college’s organic farm, which is also known as The Knoll) that creates a blind spot hazardous to drivers, bikers and walkers. The letter asks that VTrans remove the blind spot before another accident takes place.

Something needs to be done before someone else gets hurt or killed”

— HOLMES JACOBS

The ACRPC letter also describes past accidents, including anecdotal evidence of a college student hit by a car, and the 2002 deaths of two adults, a 21-month-old child and unborn twins in a head-on collision. Although there is limited evidence available from these and other crashes, older members of each affected community referenced specific fatalities on the same stretch of Route 125.

“It is very dangerous and the sun can be blinding to drivers,” said Sophie Esser Calvi, associate director for global food & farm programs at the college. She expressed her support for removal of the dangerous hill and said too many lives had already been lost.

“[The knoll] has a blind spot from both directions,” said Brian Kemp, Cornwall road commissioner and a member of the Cornwall Selectboard. He said the Cornwall Selectboard aims to have the knoll removed or lowered to a level that allows clear sight from both directions. Kemp said that in the case of similar past projects, VTrans has lowered hills and made similar changes in response to fatalities.

According to the ACRPC letter, Kemp also “noted he had lost a friend to this stretch of highway.”

Following the fatal crash in September, Holmes Jacobs, co-owner of Two Brothers Tavern to whom Rubright was a “dear friend,” approached the town of Middlebury, the college and VTrans about safety concerns. Jacobs presented to the Middlebury Selectboard in favor of signing the letter to VTrans and backing heightened safety measures. He asked for the removal of the knoll where the accidents occurred, as well as that of a second knoll further west. Jacobs also suggested that the shoulder be widened to protect runners and bikers.

“It’s very sad that we have taken so long to address this issue, but here we are. Something needs to be done before someone else gets hurt or killed,” Jacobs said. “It’s only a matter of time until it happens again.”

Calvi voiced concern about students running and biking without helmets on Route 125, and urged everyone to use the paths rather than the road when going out to the college’s Knoll. There is presently no safe place to walk along Route 125 that would make pedestrians visible to drivers. The safest way to get to the Knoll is to follow one of the paths behind the townhouses and cross the street at the edge of the student parking lot. Megan Brakeley ’06, food and garden educator for The Knoll, is working to increase student awareness of the dangers associated with the use of Route 125.

VTrans has yet to make a decision on the towns’ formal request for increased safety measures, but Selectboard members and others involved are optimistic. Still, the proposed changes are not expected to happen quickly. “If VTrans takes on this project, it could be a long process — as these things often are,” Jacobs said. In the interim, a number of temporary changes will likely be implemented in an effort to increase safety measures, including reducing the speed limit west of the college.

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