Mountain Road traffic

The numerous powder days this season have increased traffic on Mountain Road, and delays on the way to and from Stowe Mountain Resort. The stretch from the Mount Mansfield base to the Matterhorn Bar and Grill, known as Harlow Hill, is often the slowest-moving section.

You can get there from here, but it might take a while.

On Jan. 19, in the middle of a three-day holiday weekend, travelers to Stowe Mountain Resort sat in traffic for upward of two hours as vehicles crawled up Mountain Road.

It wasn’t the first time that traffic was at a near-standstill in town and — with President’s Day Week coming up in February — it won’t be the last, but the delays left some residents wondering what can be done to improve local travel in the future.

“Sunday there was an absolutely insane amount of dead stopped and backed up traffic on the Mountain Road and all those that converge on it — Cottage Club, West Hill, Luce Hill and Barrows Road,” wrote Meadow Lane resident Julie Nitschke in a recent post to an online forum dedicated to the town of Stowe. “There’s no way there was enough space for all those cars heading to the slopes, so what happens to those who get up there and have nowhere to park?”

Some residents blamed the road conditions, including a particularly notorious stretch of Mountain Road.

“It would be a reasonable conclusion that a holiday weekend will be busy; furthermore, there will be many guests in Stowe, who may not all have snow tires,” wrote Wood Road resident Gary Kjelleren. “I was on Harlow Hill during the traffic mess and noted that the road had not been salted. It was 28 degrees and the road could have been bare wet pavement. Instead, it was a greasy mess. This is a 10 percent-grade hill and should have been appropriately maintained. It wasn’t.”

Others suggested the ski resort is selling too many lift tickets.

“Maybe it’s time the resort starts limiting lift-ticket sales for these busy weekends,” said Stowe Hollow Road resident Zachary Hazard.

But really, is there anything that can be done improve traffic conditions on a day when everyone is trying to get to the same place at the same time?

‘An imperfect storm’

According to state and local officials, the long delays to get to the mountain weren’t due solely to either the weather or the volume of traffic, but a combination of the two.

“The holiday weekend backup of traffic on Route 108 in Stowe was an imperfect storm, if you will, of a massive influx of out-of-state visitors to the ski resort and overnight snow on Saturday that continued into Sunday morning,” said Amy Tatko, public outreach manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which maintains Mountain Road from the intersection with Dump Road all the way up to the entrance to the resort.

“As traffic got backed up on Sunday morning, our plow truck could not get through to clear Route 108,” Tatko continued. “Like every other vehicle on the road, we had to wait in line and wait our turn to get through. Our plow driver spent two hours and 45 minutes to plow the 7 miles from the intersection of Route 100 and Route 108 to the resort.”

While snow was a factor, the true antecedent was simply the number of people trying to get up the hill.

“It’s just sheer volume,” said Stowe Police Chief Donald B. Hull. “There were no accidents. Some people have said there were accidents that caused the delay, but it was just sheer volume.”

Hull said that, given the factors — lots of fresh snow, the middle day of Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend — he predicted it would be a busy day in town. In response, his department deployed additional officers, including one dedicated solely to Mountain Road to respond to crashes and slide-offs.

Hull also said that Harlow Hill wasn’t the treacherous obstacle it might have been made out to be on social media.

“We had more cars stuck by the Gables Bridge (on Mountain Road at the just-demolished Gables Inn) that got stuck on that little incline,” Hull said. “Harlow Hill and Pumphouse Hill were never the issue.”

The heavy traffic on Sunday was hardly unique to Stowe; Hull said that after the weekend, he spoke with police chiefs in other resort towns in Vermont and “they were pretty much in line in terms of volume coming in.”

Charles Safford, Stowe’s town manager, said the challenge lies in the town’s network of roads, which, by the very nature of the mountainous terrain, limits the choices a driver has to get from one place to another.

“There is a large demand and limited road network capacity,” Safford said. “Beyond road network capacity, there is the parking capacity. It doesn’t matter how much traffic the roads can carry if there isn’t sufficient space to offload the vehicles or do so in a timely manner.”

Notifications

By 10:30 a.m. that Sunday, the parking lots at the resort were full, forcing some travelers who just sat in traffic to turn around.

“Could there be some way of letting people know there is no more room to avoid tying up the roads, like the sign warning trucks about the Notch?” Nitschke asked.

The social-media savvy skier or rider can access real-time notifications related to snow conditions and parking by following Stowe Mountain Resort on Twitter at @StoweMtAlerts.

On the morning in question, the resort sent no fewer than five alerts, and while they didn’t explicitly address traffic, they let travelers know that the parking lots were half-filled by 8:30 a.m. and full by 10:30 a.m., with the resort urging visitors to park in the village and take a bus up the hill.

Going forward, Stowe police will begin to send notifications through VT Alerts, a service of Vermont Emergency Management that lets travelers know when they might encounter inclement conditions or delays. Users can sign up at vem.vermont.gov/vtalert.

“That way, if someone’s coming up from Massachusetts and they see there’s a two-hour delay, they can go with ‘Plan B’,” Hull said.

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