Circ Highway opponents file in court

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(Host) Environmentalists have gone to court to stop the proposed Circumferential Highway around Burlington. The suit was filed in federal court on Wednesday by four environmental groups and two Chittenden County residents. They charge that state and federal transportation officials have concealed the true environmental impact of the project.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Circumferential Highway is designed to loop around Burlington through the suburbs of Williston, Essex and Colchester. But the lawsuit charges that it’s an outdated and expensive project that ignores more effective alternatives. The environmentalists say the 16-mile highway will increase suburban sprawl, aggravate water pollution in nearby streams, and harm air quality.

Brian Dunkiel, a Burlington lawyer who represents Friends of the Earth environmental group, also questions the argument that the highway will ease traffic jams in Chittenden County.

(Dunkiel) “The Circ as proposed is not going to relieve congestion. It’s going to increase congestion in several critical intersections. And finally the organizations challenge whether the projected benefits of the Circ – the 11 second decrease in travel time in certain corridors – justifies the enormous expense of $180 million dollars.”

(Dillon) The Bush administration put the highway project on the fast track. The road is also a top priority for the Douglas administration, which sees it as a key piece of the transportation infrastructure in Chittenden County. Dunkiel says it doesn’t matter if the project has strong political and financial backing.

(Dunkiel) “The organizations and plaintiffs in this case went to court in order to enforce the law and whether or not the financing for the highway has already been allocated or if there’s political support to construct the highway, that doesn’t obviate the need for the law to be followed.”

(Dillon) The Douglas administration knew the lawsuit was coming. Administration officials and the environmental groups worked out a deal that allows a ceremonial groundbreaking this fall but no substantial work before the case gets decided.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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