Fairlee and Orford Fourth of July parade canceled due to traffic concerns

Travis Morrill, left, Nick Conklin, middle, and Kevin Kenny, right, of New England Infrastructure build forms for concrete on the Lyme-Thetford bridge over the Connecticut River in Lyme, N.H., on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Site Superintendent Ben Rickson said they plan to pour concrete for the bridge deck by the end of May. The bridge will be painted and a pier will be refaced with concrete before the planned reopening in the fall. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Travis Morrill, left, Nick Conklin, middle, and Kevin Kenny, right, of New England Infrastructure build forms for concrete on the Lyme-Thetford bridge over the Connecticut River in Lyme, N.H., on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Site Superintendent Ben Rickson said they plan to pour concrete for the bridge deck by the end of May. The bridge will be painted and a pier will be refaced with concrete before the planned reopening in the fall. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - James M. Patterson

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-23-2024 4:01 PM

FAIRLEE — The state has forced the cancellation of the annual Fairlee and Orford Fourth of July parade this year due to an increase in traffic along the parade’s roughly mile-long route.

The parade traditionally begins on Route 25A in Orford, then travels along Route 10 before crossing the bridge over the Connecticut River that connects to Route 5 in Fairlee before ending at a field south of Wing’s Market on Route 5, which also is Fairlee’s Main Street.

But this year, the closure of a 6-mile stretch of Interstate 91 South to repair rock ledges between Fairlee and Bradford, Vt., has caused traffic on Route 5 to increase exponentially.

“The parade permit was denied due to the detour for the southbound interstate traffic,” Shauna Clifford, district maintenance administrator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, or VTrans, District 4, wrote in an email.

Clifford issued the denial earlier this month.

Fairlee Police Chief Wayne Briggs said he understands why the state denied the permit and has seen firsthand what happens when traffic is shut down on Route 5 since the interstate closed.

In late April, he had to partially close Route 5 for about 20 minutes after a tractor trailer went off the road. By the time the issue was resolved, southbound traffic was backed up for about three miles.

“Shutting down Route 5 on a holiday for a half hour, 45 minutes, with a parade, I estimate we would have traffic backed up to Bradford easily,” Briggs said. “I can see the state’s reasoning for not wanting to issue a permit.”

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The work on southbound I-91 is the second detour both towns have had to deal with in the past year; the bridge spanning the Connecticut River between East Thetford and Lyme has been closed since April 2023, and as a result traffic has also increased on Route 25A in Orford.

Briggs said that prior to both detours, there were around 3,000 vehicles that traveled along Route 5 in Fairlee; now that number is closer to 10,000.

Orford also is seeing traffic increase on Route 10 and Bridge Street, said Orford Police Chief Jason Bachus.

“Easily, all things combined, probably a 40 to 45% increase in traffic during the high commute times, and summer hasn’t even started yet,” Bachus said.

Though organizers don’t fault the state’s reasoning for denying the permit, they say the annual parade will be missed.

Ann Green, an Orford resident who helps plan the annual celebration, said the parade has been going on since at least the 1940s. save for 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she cannot remember another year it wasn’t held.

“We’ve done this jointly for years and years and years,” said Green. “It’s very disappointing it’s not going to happen.”

The festivities draw hundreds of people to downtown Orford and Fairlee, Green said, and a theme — “Leap for Patriotism” in honor of 2024 being a Leap Year — had already been chosen when the decision was made earlier this month that the event couldn’t be held.

Organizers had hoped to reroute the parade to keep the whole route in Orford, but the logistics were too challenging.

“Since we have all the extra traffic on Route 10 now there’s just no possible way, in my opinion, to adequately protect not only the participants, but the spectators if the parade was held in Orford only,” Bachus said. “It’s pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder standing room only” along the whole parade route, he added.

Fairlee Fire Chief Andrew Godfrey said he is disappointed that the parade won’t take place, but supports the cancellation.

“There’s too much traffic running down Route 5,” he said. “We were worried someone was going to get hurt.”

Though the parade has been canceled, two parts of the Fourth of July festivities will continue.

Fireworks over Lake Morey will go off as usual around dusk on July 4. And the Fairlee Volunteer Fire Department still plans on holding its chicken barbecue fundraiser, though the logistics are still being worked out. It is the department’s biggest fundraiser, and last year it brought in around $1,500.

There’s hope that the parade will return next year. Bruce Martin, VTrans project manager, estimated that the work on I-91 will be done in mid-to-late August.

Meanwhile, work on the Lyme/Thetford bridge rehabilitation project is “progressing very well,” Chuck Flanders, district construction engineer with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, wrote in an email. It’s on schedule to reopen in October, he said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.