The torn up miles of Vermont Route 30 between Brattleboro and Newfane is no mere repaving project, but a full-depth reclamation (FDR) of the road surface. FDR requires making several passes over the ten miles that run from the corner of Cedar Street in Brattleboro, to just past Brook Street, about a mile south of Newfane Village.
During this first phase, the road is being milled, the asphalt pulverized, mixed with added gravel and compacted. This is also when the roadway will be graded, raised where needed, and banked according to current design standards. These initial processes are expected to last through June.
Paving will follow in three separate layers: a subbase of recycled asphalt will be laid down first (mid to late July); then an intermediate layer of asphalt will be added (early August); and finally the wearing course will complete the resurfacing (mid-September). The new signs, paint, and guardrails are expected to be installed and the project completed sometime in October.
There’s no question: this section of Route 30 was in bad shape with what amounted to ruts in the asphalt, ruts that filled with water in the rain and made driving more dangerous than usual. But the project is also one in a long line of such efforts since I first traveled this road in 1965. That road had few guardrails, no shoulders, and many curves. Many parts of this 114-mile state highway between Brattleboro and Middlebury have been improved since then.
The last time such a project took place on this section of Route 30 was in 1995, the year I moved to Newfane. That project involved relocating about a mile of the highway to eliminate a dip and a curve along a narrow section of roadway that was replaced with a wide straightaway up a hill.
While flaggers stopped traffic for men and machines, I watched the mile-long section of forest cleared, graded, and paved. It made me curious: If a single mile caused this much disruption, what did clearcutting four lanes of 323 miles for Vermont’s interstate highways entail? And, how did the Interstates change not only the landscape, but also the culture of the state? I’ve been spending most of my adult life answering these questions in a trilogy of novels: one set in 1958, during early construction of I-91; another set in 1964, when people like me started to arrive on the new road; and in an unfinished novel that spans thirty years, from 1985 to 2015.
It took twenty years to complete I-91, required fifty acres of land for each mile and up to a hundred and fifty for each on/off ramp. The cost? A million dollars a mile and the life of Romaine Tenney, who, rather than sell his farm for the highway, burned it down—with himself inside.
The current project of rehabilitating ten miles of Route 30 is expected to cost 23 million dollars. But what I think about while I’m waiting for an Automated Flagging Assistance Device (AFAD) to let me pass, is how much traffic this state highway carries, how much carbon we emit in both necessary and recreational travel up and down the valley, and how much carbon the machines doing the work emit.
I was nine years old on that first visit to Vermont, and all I knew then about “Pollution” was from the Tom Lehrer song, recorded on vinyl. By 1995, when the state straightened Route 30 in Newfane, I’d lived through the oil embargo of the 1970’s and gained an inkling that energy conservation mattered. It’s now 2023, and I’m becoming aware that the “good” mileage I get in my hybrid doesn’t account for the carbon emitted in building, maintaining, and rebuilding the roads.
I’ve recently learned that an eighty year-old red oak in the northern forest sequesters about the same amount of carbon emitted by driving a car 12,000 miles—about what Tim and I do in the course of a year. Maybe, if I plant an oak now, by the time it’s eighty, we’ll have figured out transportation systems with lower carbon emissions. In the meantime, I’m determined to drive as little as possible. Thanks to the internet, I can earn from home. When I do have to leave, I’ll try to combine errands and appointments, carpool if possible, bicycle when practical. Meanwhile, I’ll be either in the word shop or the garden, living in place and—as much as I can—staying there.