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Years After Bridgewater School Closure, Thousands Ticketed For 'School Zone' Speeding

Welcome to Bridgewater sign next to a 25 mph speed limit sign
Emily Corwin
Last year, more than 2,380 tickets were issued in Bridgewater, and most of those tickets were issued on a 25 mph stretch of Route 4 that is only one-third of a mile long.

In 2017, deputies issued more tickets in Bridgewater than anywhere else in the state. The vast majority of these tickets were issued in a 25 mph "school zone" — even though the Bridgewater Village School closed three years ago.

  • Population: 936
  • Tickets issued: 2,381+
  • Total issued in traffic ticket fines: $397,521+
  • Total received in traffic ticket revenue in 2017: $199,987
  • Revenue to town per resident: $215 
  • Amount spent on traffic enforcement by Windsor County's Sheriff's Department (FY17): $205,250

Although Plymouth receives more revenue from traffic tickets, deputies issued more tickets in Bridgewater than anywhere else in the state in 2017. The vast majority of those tickets were issued in a 25-mph zone one third of a mile long. If one could calculate ticket revenue per foot, this might be the most lucrative stretch of road in the state.
This was initially a “school zone,” meaning the 25-mph limit was only enforceable when kids were present or lights were flashing. But in 1983, Agency of Transportation records show, the statewide traffic committee decided to convert all existing school zones in villages and cities into full-time speed limits. That included Route 4 in Bridgewater.

Consequently, even though the Bridgewater Village School closed three years ago, the “school zone” speed limit stayed put.

Credit Vermont Agency of Transportation
An excerpt from a March 16, 1983 letter from Lt. Alfred C. Morrison to Bridgewater town clerk Margaret Phelps regarding school zones.

Since 1983, more than 20 schools have closed across the state. Amy Gamble, traffic operations engineer for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said when schools close, the state does not reassess the speed limit in the now permanent "school zones." 

Windsor County Sheriff Michael Chamberlain supports the current 25-mph speed limit. “There are no sidewalks,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much for someone to go off and hit a child, or hit a family.”

The town of Bridgewater hires Chamberlain’s department to enforce the speed limit on Route 4 for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Town Constable Collen Doyle would like to find other ways to slow speeding drivers in Bridgewater.

Doyle is 29 years old and moved back to Bridgewater from New York City a few years ago. “I often joke around and say ‘I’m on the mean streets of Bridgewater,’” he said. 

"When I go to bed there are blue lights, and when I wake up there are blue lights." — Bridgewater constable Collen Doyle

Doyle worries Bridgewater’s reputation as a speed trap dissuades visitors from spending money in town. “It’s anti-advertising,” he said. “I really think it has hurt our economics.”

Bridgewater voters spend roughly a third of the town's annual revenue on speed enforcement from the county sheriff’s department: $205,250. Deputies are there 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

For residents, that enforcement is cost-free. The expense is offset entirely by revenue from speeding tickets and other traffic fines. The town's 2018 report anticipates traffic ticket revenues and law enforcement expenses will match, and estimates a 5.31% increase for both over 4 years. 

Explore the full investigation into the issuing of traffic tickets in Vermont here.

This report comes from VPR's investigative reporting desk. VPR is committed to investigative journalism as part of its mission of public service. Have a tip for the investigative reporting desk? Send an email to VPR reporter/editor Emily Corwin.

Emily Corwin reported investigative stories for VPR until August 2020. In 2019, Emily was part of a two-newsroom team which revealed that patterns of inadequate care at Vermont's eldercare facilities had led to indignities, injuries, and deaths. The consequent series, "Worse for Care," won a national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting, and placed second for a 2019 IRE Award. Her work editing VPR's podcast JOLTED, about an averted school shooting, and reporting NHPR's podcast Supervision, about one man's transition home from prison, made her a finalist for a Livingston Award in 2019 and 2020. Emily was also a regular reporter and producer on Brave Little State, helping the podcast earn a National Edward R. Murrow Award for its work in 2020. When she's not working, she enjoys cross country skiing and biking.
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