Egypt Road is a frequent short cut for townspeople
WHATELY — If Egypt Road is closed, it could take emergency responders an extra four minutes to reach Long Plain Road from State Road.
Four minutes to go around the gravel road could be life or death, Whately fire and police officials told a crowded Whately Elementary School cafeteria this week.
On Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen held its third public meeting on whether to recommend closing Egypt Road, but town leaders held off on making a final decision.
The fate of the road has been the center of debate for months since the selectmen originally voted to keep it open in February.
The Egypt Road railroad crossing was one of 23 public crossings from Vermont to Springfield listed for possible closure in 2010 due to its low volume of traffic and because it is a dirt road. The state Department of Transportation asked the town if it wanted to keep the road open, which would require the state to upgrade the railroad crossing that cuts across the center of the road. For $400,000 to $500,000, the improved crossing would include gates, flashing lights, audible warning devices and pavement.
But later in March, a group of 10 Egypt Road neighbors protested the decision, asking the selectmen to reconsider. There are eight homes on the road.
The neighbors’ main argument was safety. They contend the road is already dangerous with speeding vehicles using it as a shortcut to Long Plain Road. And when Amtrak service returns to that stretch of track, a 60-mph train would jeopardize safety further and increase noise pollution.
Resident John Frangie carried statistics about how train whistles could damage hearing and drop property values.
A traffic count conducted from May 2 to May 8 by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, however, weakened many of the arguments for closure.
The residents believed that only they used the road. But the traffic count proves that many more people traverse the dirt road besides the 10 residents.
According to the traffic count, a total of 135 vehicles cross the Egypt Road tracks on a typical weekday, while 177 cross the road on the weekend.
Many of those vehicles are farm vehicles.
The town Agricultural Commission — led by Tim Nourse of Nourse Farms — opposed closing the road.
In an April 11 letter from Nourse, the five-member commission recommended keeping the road open for farmers who use it to get from Routes 5 and 10 to Long Plain Road. The road serves as a safer route for slow-moving farm equipment.
Farmers who signed the letter include Harvest Farm, Golonka Farm, David Jackson and Full Bloom Farm.
“It’s important for me to bail off Routes 5 and 10 with farm equipment,” said Gary Gemme of Harvest Farm. “I’ve experienced way too many close calls. When I hit Egypt Road, I feel a weight come off my shoulders and I feel I’m going to make it home. It’s important to me. I don’t want to die on the road trying to do my job.”
Vehicle speed was also low on the dirt road despite residents’ claim that speeding cars threaten young children and pedestrians.
The traffic count showed only 4.8 percent of the eastbound traffic traveled 30 or more miles per hour during the week. For traffic heading west, that number reached 5.4 percent.
On the weekend, only 1.1 percent of eastbound traffic traveled at 30 or more miles per hour, while 3.6 percent going west reached 30 or more miles per hour.
Town officials, including Fire Chief John Hannum and Police Chief James Sevigne Jr., also favored maintaining the road.
“Unless everyone has a fire detector and sprinklers on Egypt Road, keep it open,” Hannum insisted. “If there was a fire on the east end of Egypt Road, I promise no one will get there.”
If Egypt Road closed, Highway Superintendent Keith Bardwell said, the first option for emergency responders would be to use Christian Lane to get to Long Plain Road. If Christian Lane is blocked, the next option would be to travel to Hatfield to Depot Road to Straits Road then to Long Plain Road.
In the past five years, there has only been one fire on Egypt Road, but the emergency responders used it during last week’s micro-burst and the 2011 October snowstorm.
Judy Markland, the Planning Board chairman, also recommended the road stay open.
According to town zoning regulations, a dead-end road cannot be longer than 500 feet because long, dead-end roads are vulnerable to crime and vandalism.
The final decision is not up to the selectmen, however. The road is not a town road, but a county road. So the selectmen would only make a recommendation for closure and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments would make the final decision.
According to state General Law Chapter 82, to discontinue a county road, the council must find common convenience and necessity require the road closure.
During a public hearing, the council must determine whether the town would be better without the road than with it. If the council discontinues the road, the public’s right to passage is erased and the town no longer has to maintain the road.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.