Circ Highway faces two-year delay for environmental study

Print More

(Host) The Douglas administration predicts a two-year delay for the controversial circumferential highway project in Chittenden County. Administration officials say it will take that long to comply with a court order that halted work on the project.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The dilemma for the state was how to comply with a federal court order that says the environmental study for the new road is inadequate. The study was completed in 1986 and later updated, but Judge William Sessions ruled that the document didn’t take a hard look at the impact of the project.

Governor Jim Douglas says the state will follow the court’s order.

(Douglas) “I hope we’ll be able to address the concerns of the court by revising the environmental impact statement, and include the considerations that the court found were lacking, and get the project back on track.”

(Host) But administration officials say that a new environmental impact statement will take at least two years to develop. Pat McDonald is transportation secretary:

(McDonald) “Certainly we have to address all of the issues that the court highlighted in his decision, particularly including cumulative impact and alternatives.”

(Dillon) The Circ is a top priority for Douglas. The White House has even tried to help. In 2002, when Douglas was campaigning for governor, the Bush administration put the project on a fast track for environmental review.

But a federal law passed during the first Nixon administration requires the government to thoroughly examine the environmental impacts of any major federal action – like a new highway.

Judge Sessions ruled that the first environmental study, completed in 1986, was deficient, particularly in terms of studying the project’s impact on suburban sprawl. And the judge said that a second environmental assessment finished in 2003 was also “totally inadequate.” He said the more recent study failed to look at the cumulative impact of the project, and failed to study alternatives, as required by federal law.

Environmentalists say the court ruling gives the state time to look at alternatives to the highway, such as improving local roads and mass transit. Brian Dunkiel is a lawyer for Friends of the Earth.

(Dunkiel) “This decision really creates an enormous opportunity to involve the public to look at what alternatives ought to be considered. All along, the environmental organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have said now that 30 years have passed since the creation of this highway, better alternatives exist. So this creates an opportunity to pull the public in, pull all the stakeholders in.”

(Dillon) The state and federal government will have to pay the road contractor about $250,000 to close out work on the project.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Comments are closed.