by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — The Women’s March on Montpelier attracted so many people that police had to completely shut down Interstate exits 7 (Berlin), 8 (Montpelier) and 9 ( Middlesex) between 2 and 4 p.m. Jan. 21. Traffic on the interstate was at a standstill for miles as foot traffic in the city from Bailey Avenue to the State House was shoulder to shoulder as well.
A Montpelier Police Department spokes person said Chief Tony Facos had estimated around 20,000 people came to town — way more than expected. The Bridge ran into Mayor John Hollar en route to the starting point at Montpelier High School amid a throng of marchers who spread out onto Bailey Avenue even before it was officially closed to automobile traffic at 1:15. Hollar said city officials were expecting around 10,000 people, but this conversation occurred before the event had even begun. A few cars were trapped on Bailey Avenue by the pedestrian masses.
As the day wore on, people continued flowing in — one woman reported being stuck for over an hour in her car on the interstate just outside town. She had driven in from Richmond.
Those scheduled to present included former Gov. Madelaine Kunin, Muslim Girls Making Change, Ebony Nyoni (founder and director of Black Lives Matter VT), Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter. Not included on the published lineup announcement, but appearing before the crowd was Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Restaurants and stores had customers waiting on long lines to get coffee, refreshments and use the restroom. Although portable toilets were provided, the demand far exceeded the supply.
Vermont State Police public information officer Scott Waterman issued the following announcement some time after 2 p.m., “Interstate 89 Exit 8 Montpelier North and Southbound exit ramps have been closed. Currently no access to Montpelier via exit 8. Exit 9 Middlesex will be closed shortly as well. Traffic is backed up for miles both north and south bound in the travel and passing lanes in the area. Agency of Transportation and the Vermont Agency of Transportation is modifying I 89 travel signs across the state to indicate no current access to Montpelier from I89.”
“Per the Montpelier City Police Chief Tony Facos, travel within the city is highly restricted and city roads cannot support any more people or vehicles. Facos requests you avoid the area if possible. AGAIN – traffic is currently at a standstill on Interstate 89 near Montpelier, Vermont. Currently there are no other public safety concerns in the area. Vermont State Police, Montpelier Police, VTrans are all working to assist all to reach their destinations safely.”
By 2:30 p.m. Exit 9 in Middlesex had been shut down. By 3 p.m. Exits 7 and 9 were re-opened to traffic.
Waterman issued a public “thank you” to those who were affected, writing, “Authorities in Montpelier and the Vermont State Police would like to thanks those in the area for their understanding of this unusual traffic issue. We hope to have area traffic safely back to normal on Interstate 89 and Montpelier streets by the evening hours.”
The purpose of the march was to promote human rights for women and vulnerable populations including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans community, immigrants, Muslims and people who are not Caucasian. Also to promote physical safety, reproductive rights and health in the wake of President Donald J. Trump’s presidential inauguration Jan. 20.