Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bennington's Financial Bypass Surgery

For Don Keelan's story about the north leg of the bypass click here

BENNINGTON -- What happens when you build a bypass? You're bypassed and forgotten.

The most recent statistics on Vermont's agency of transportation website (here) explain why Main Street Bennington continues to struggle amid an uptick in the national economy.

In August 2012, when the eastern leg to Wilmington was completed, 5,644 motorists a day drove into town on Route 9.

In October '13 -- at the height of foliage season -- 4,917 motorists a day came to town on Route 9, a decrease of 727 or 12.3 percent.

The number of incomers from Route 9 has decreased at least 14 months in a row but probably much longer considering the days when 10,000+ motorists came to town.

The continuous slide means a few things: First, 12.3 percent means fewer trucks rumble through town, which always was the main argument to build the bypass though all one needs to do is sit at the four corners during a typical day to see dozens of 18-wheelers barging in and out of town, which makes you wonder if the bypass achieved its goal.

The second, larger, effect is that when you build a bypass to give truckers a chance to loop around town over a 4-mile stretch (see the map above), you give regular motorists a chance to loop around town, too. Which means families in cars. Which means money and disposable income. Which means money and disposable income bypassing Bennington and driving to other towns to spend money. Manchester. Rutland. Brandon. Killington. Springfield. Wilmington. Brattleboro. The Upper Valley. Northwest Kingdom. Basically everywhere but Bennington. Which means Main Street Bennington turning into a morgue many days, even Saturday and Sunday. Which means businesses can't operate in this kind of climate and leave town. Which means who wants to open in a business on Main Street Bennington when fewer and fewer people are coming to a town that offers little incentive to do so? Which means fewer and fewer jobs for Benningtonians. Which means a town struggling with poverty issues begins to struggle even more. Which leads to more beggars and people sleeping in their cars. Which leads to anti-panhandling ordinances!

It's all connected.

The numbers starting in April 2013 start to get frightening:

* April -- 21.2 percent decrease from April '12
* May -- 11.4 percent decrease from May '12
* June -- 14.0 percent decrease from June '12
* July -- 13.9 percent decrease from July '12
* August -- 9.8 percent decrease from August '12
* September -- 6.7 percent decrease from September '12
* October -- 1.0 percent decrease from October '12

Another Vermont DOT chart (page 11 here) shows more depressing stats.

In 2003, a year before the west leg of the bypass opened .4 miles east of the NY/VT border, 9,700 vehicles a day came into town on Route 9.

The DOT posts traffic-flow data every two years for this part of the bypass, and the last reading in '11 showed that the number of daily motorists who bypassed the west bypass to drive into Bennington on Main Street was 4,500.

The bypass has had a great effect on Vermont tourism. As of the last tally, visitors to the Green Mountain State spent $1.7 billion in 2011. 

How much of that came at Bennington's expense?

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