Long-Distance Detour: Vermont Culvert Failure Adds 50-70 Miles to Some Drives

The detour was forced by a partially collapsed culvert on part of Route 78 in Swanton

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Some drivers in the northwestern corner of Vermont had to take a surprisingly lengthy detour Thursday — as many as 70 miles.

“It could be a major pain for everybody,” Tammy Lachappelle said of the temporary closure of part of Route 78 in Swanton.

A sunken section of the well-used road, which is a key trucking route, meant Route 78 in the area of Campbell Bay Road would be unusable Thursday and Friday, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said.

The closure followed a powerful band of thunderstorms that rumbled through Wednesday at the tail end of a heat wave.

Underneath the road, NECN and NBC10 Boston’s news camera glimpsed a failed culvert a state transportation official said dates to roughly 1975. Water connecting to Lake Champlain flows through that culvert.

Wednesday’s wild weather uprooted trees across southern New Hampshire.

Lachappelle and her friend learned the detour created by that partially collapsed culvert would add more than an hour to their drive.

“If you have business through here, if you have family, you can’t get through,” Lachappelle lamented. “That’s going to hurt you, because you want to make sure they’re safe, too. So it’s going to be a major, major bummer.”

To give you a better sense of what drivers are up against, imagine coming from northern New York into Vermont. Normally, you’d have an easy little drive across Lake Champlain, through Alburgh and into Swanton on Route 78, through the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. 

However, with that culvert out, you now would have to drive south on Route 2, the whole length of Grand Isle County, then hook up with Interstate 89 and head all the way back north into Swanton.

“There’s no easy way around,” said Jim Cota, a project manager for district eight of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

An effort to intentionally sink an old ferry and turn it into a reef is getting some pushback.

Cota estimated the detour to get from Alburgh to Swanton at about 70 miles long. He explained to people living outside the area that part of Vermont has a lot of water and simply doesn’t have another big east-west road.

Others’ detours could be more like 50 miles, based on where they were coming from and going to, the Vermont Agency of Transportation noted on Twitter.

Cota said the transportation agency put the repair on its most urgent fast-track, securing contractors early Thursday morning.

“Until I’m sure there’s no void underneath the pavement, nobody can drive across that,” Cota said, emphasizing the agency’s focus on safety.

Pre-pandemic, drivers with a passport in hand could have actually shortened that drive by cutting into a piece of Canada and reentering the U.S., but COVID-19 has the border still closed to nonessential crossings.

“A lot of people are really frustrated, I see on Facebook,” said Kellie Belisle, who drives Route 78 regularly.

Belisle said her friends and relatives affected by the detour will just have to be patient.

“I have family that have campers over there, and they said they’re just not going to go around,” Belisle told NECN and NBC10 Boston. “They’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”

Cota offered good news for those folks and thousands of others who use Route 78.

VTrans expects the fix to be complete by Friday night, Cota said. 

Late Thursday afternoon, after NECN and NBC10 Boston’s broadcast deadline, VTrans wrote on social media and in a news release that following the completion of road repairs, Route 78 should be back open Saturday morning — eliminating that incredible detour in time for the holiday weekend.

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