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County has final say on closing Whately road

WHATELY — If Whately selectmen choose to keep Egypt Road open, opposing residents could go before the Franklin Regional Council of Governments on their own to ask for road closure.

According to long-time COG executive committee member Bill Perlman of Ashfield, anyone can make a request for road closure.

“Technically, anyone can make a recommendation to the council to close the road,” said Perlman. “Generally it is the selectboard.”

The request comes with a cost.

To ask for closure of a county road, a person must submit a request form with a deposit to cover the costs of closure. Those costs include the price for an engineering layout of the road, which could amount to $2,000, but Perlman did not know the exact cost.

The COG can then decide to schedule a site visit and hold a public hearing.

Input would be sought from all Franklin County residents, not just Whately residents.

When weighing to close a county road, the COG considers whether road closure meets the standard of public convenience and necessity, Perlman said.

A common case for road closure is if it is unused, Perlman said.

Egypt Road may have trouble passing muster. According to a traffic count by the council, 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.

If the road is discontinued, the land reverts to the abutters.

Another case to discontinue a county road is if the town wants to make it a town-owned road. In that case, the council discontinues the road and the town accepts it as a town road.

Though the state asked the town to choose what to do with the road, it is still the county that makes the ultimate choice. The decision is one of the vestiges left over from the former county government.

“It’s our choice,” said Perlman. “A county road is owned by the county. No one else has control over a county road.”

A committee member since the COG’s inception, Perlman can’t remember a time where it declined to close a road.

The future of Egypt Road has become a controversial debate.

The state Department of Transportation asked the selectmen to choose whether they would want to keep open or close the county road.

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. If the road stayed open, it 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.

In February, the selectmen voted to keep the road open, but reconsidered their decision after 10 Egypt Road residents protested. Meanwhile, some local farmers and the police and fire chiefs have urged the selectmen to keep the road open.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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