Peer review questions proposed Chester Jiffy Mart’s traffic numbers

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015-Telegraph Publishing LLC

DRB ready to begin hearing.

The DRB prepares for hearing on Monday night. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

A  privately commissioned peer review of the traffic study submitted by Jiffy Mart has called into question the  numbers on which the convenience store chain has based its assertion that its proposed store would have no impact on congestion and crashes.

The review was presented on Monday night, when the Chester Development Review Board reconvened the flood hazard and conditional use permit hearings to take testimony on the proposed 5,000-square-foot Jiffy Mart at the corner of Pleasant and Main streets.

The question for the evening, taken from town zoning regulations was whether the project will “have an undue adverse effect [on] traffic on roads and highways in the vicinity.”  Opponents brought expert testimony that called into question Champlain Oil’s contention that the project would have little effect — and might even improve — the traffic at the corner of Main and Pleasant streets.

At an earlier meeting, Matt Wamsganz, representing developer Champlain Oil, had presented a Traffic Impact Study prepared by Trudell Consulting Engineers and was asked by the board to have an engineer available to answer questions at this meeting. He presented Abigail Dery of Trudell, who was asked – among other things – why a Thursday afternoon was chosen to represent traffic in the area when weekends in ski season are often the periods of greatest traffic.

Champlain Oil's Matt Wamsganz testifying with Trudell's Abby Dery.

Champlain Oil’s Matt Wamsganz testifying with Trudell’s Abby Dery.

Dery said that the firm was going for an afternoon during the school year as representative, then using a statistical average known as the “design hour volume” to adjust the Thursday traffic. Noting that the ski weekends are the highest traffic periods, Dery told the board that “highways are not designed for the peaks or else (they) would be over-designed.”

Pointing to the state Agency of Transportation’s letter of intent to approve the project, Dery noted that one condition mandates that Champlain conduct further traffic studies at the end of year one and after five years. If the project increases the number of crashes in the area or adds to current traffic delays and causes other negative outcomes, Dery said that the company would be “on the hook” for the cost of correcting problems. Champlain Oil and the state both have said that if Trudell’s projections are in error, VTrans would make the corrections, which could include turn lanes, stoplights or other measures.

“This has nothing to do with VTrans. This is our decision,” said board member Phil Perlah, referring to the fact that while the Agency of Transportation can permit the project and correct problems as they arise, the DRB can find that a project creates an undue adverse effect and reject it or approve it with conditions.

From the floor, Chester resident Doug Somerville asked what the increase would be from traffic coming from the current Jiffy Mart. Perlah amplified the question, saying that there are three kinds of traffic: pass-through, new trips and customers who would have gone to the current Jiffy Mart instead of traveling to the new location.

Dery said, “We didn’t project based on any closed stores,” but later told the board that the survey had accounted for every type of traffic.

Citgo Jiffy Mart with peaked and paneled canopy as shown to the DRB. Photo illustration provided.

Citgo Jiffy Mart with peaked and paneled canopy as shown to the DRB. Photo illustration provided.

Several attendees expressed concern for pedestrian traffic including state Rep. Leigh Dakin, who pointed out that the store could become a destination for people in the nearby apartment complex and that children currently walk past the site to get to school. In either case, Dakin was concerned that Champlain Oil take steps to make the project safe for pedestrians.

Dery told the audience that the traffic study is vehicular and “doesn’t really include pedestrians.”

Once the board and members of the audience had a chance to ask questions of Dery, local architect Claudio Veliz, who is also an alternate on the town’s Planning Commission, introduced Ben Swanson of RSG, a consulting firm that had been hired to conduct and report on a peer review of Trudell’s study. According to Swanson, the RSG peer review found:

  1. Trudell used an adjustment factor for “rural, non-interstate” for Route 103, when VTrans classifies the road as “Summer/Winter recreational US and VT routes.” According to Swanson, traffic volume using the latter factor would be estimated at 24 percent higher than Trudell’s report.
  2. While growth is low in Vermont, standard practice is to give growth estimates for the year of the project and for five years later. Citing low growth, Trudell chose estimates for one year instead of two, omitting a growth figure for 2020. RSG noted that if growth is low and Trudell was only going to cite one growth scenario, it should be the 2020 rather than a current picture.
  3. RSG notes that Trudell did not take into account traffic generated by any other developments in the area. Pointing to the site immediately to the west of the project, Swanson noted that Champlain Oil’s traffic study did not take into consideration trip generation figures from the Dollar General, which has been permitted for that area.
  4. RSG’s review also notes that the trip generation numbers come from a VTrans 2010 report, which Swanson maintains has never been authorized for use in traffic impact studies. The review says that Trudell should have used the standard Institute of Transportation Engineers trip generation figures, although they would have resulted in a higher trip number. Swanson also noted that by breaking apart the restaurant uses from the convenience store use, Trudell was able to further reduce the projected number of trips and therefore the volume of traffic it estimated.
  5. RSG challenged what it saw as the assumption by Trudell that most traffic, whether it entered on Route 103 or Route 11 would exit on Route 103, even though the pumps are on the eastern side of the site, nearer to Route 11. Since the internal circulation layout discourages “cut throughs” RSG suggests that the distribution of traffic from the site be revised and studied.
  6. While Trudell correctly asserts that the intersection of Main and Pleasant is not a “high crash area,” RSG notes that the .3 mile segments adjacent to the intersection to the west and north are both “high crash areas.” Dery told the board that she was unaware that the Pleasant Street segment was classified as a high crash area. RSG recommended that an analysis of crashes in the area be done to see if there are “appropriate mitigation measures” needed.

At approximately 10:15 p.m., the Jiffy Mart hearing was recessed until Monday, July 27 for the “special criteria” review and Monday, Aug. 10 to resume the discussion of traffic. Trudell’s response to the RSG peer review and RSG’s response to Trudell’s addenda is expected at that time.

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  1. Neale says:

    In regard to what to do when/if the Jiffy Mart moves. Maybe as part of the deal the town can get Champlain Oil to give the current site to the town after they remove all the tanks and structures. And get them to move the Yosemite Fire House to the site, pay to restore it and set up a fund to pay for upkeep/insurance.

    I don’t live in Chester, but I’ve visited my grandmother there many times. Where I’m from (VA) developers make proffers (i.e. money, parks, schools or fire stations) to the city/county all the time to get developments approved. Throwing the Fire House into this deal would seem to help with that issue, which I’ve read about, and also make it easier to visit it in terms of space and being closer to the Green.

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I’m guessing the old Jiffy Mart building will end up as a Magic Mushroom store – tobacco use only of course.

    On a more serious note, when the Christmas Tree Store wanted to move to Hyannis, Mass., the town had them do a lot of complementary road work. The Jiffy is without question the most successful business in town. The corner of Maple Street. where 103 heads north is not wide enough for the truck traffic we have, so it may be a good opportunity to split the road at Maple and Depot and make them one ways, creating a nice intersection at the current Jiffy location.

    The old VTica location could absorb the green space for greater parking and the additional traffic would make that location more viable. It was so poorly planned with no parking. In my opinion, the cost of that building (and the location) will keep it empty for years unless someone starts a non-profit art school or something like it in the building.

    With the new Jiffy location being all about business – and I don’t blame them – the loss of a very interesting looking New England structure and loss of some charm and new safer more functional roadway may be a fair trade.

    On the note of the corner, they could be asked to buy the former gift shop on the corner of Maple and remove it for a better intersection also. But hey, why get something when you have the chance when we can just sit back and watch things become less interesting and more messed up?

  3. Larry says:

    I think all the money spent on lawyers fighting Dollar General and probably Jiffy Mart if it gets DRB approval should go to building green space in place of old Jiffy Mart. Benches and all season restrooms to accommodate the “tourists”. The street from 103 to Main St. should be one way headed to Main St. Just some random thoughts on a rainy day.

  4. I was told by a Champlain Oil representative that the tanks would be removed, the canopy taken down and pumps and signs removed. The property would then be offered for sale but not as a gas station.

  5. Ron Theissen says:

    Should the new Jiffy Mart plans go through, does anyone know what will happen to the existing Jiffy Mart property? Will it become an abandoned gas station in the heart of town?