Circumferential Highway Gets New Design

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(Host) The state Transportation Agency is changing the design of the Circumferential Highway in an effort to win approval from federal agencies.

Officials have re-designed the roadway to avoid destroying some wetlands. The change came after the Environmental Protection Agency opposed the original plan for a limited access highway.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Remember the Circ Highway? It’s the 16 mile road in Chittenden County that was designed to link some of the suburbs around Burlington.

Candidate Jim Douglas promised to finish the project when he first ran for governor in 2002. But the only earth turned so far was at a ceremonial ground breaking six years ago.

Now the Agency of Transportation has re-designed the project to address some of the environmental impacts.

They’ve changed the road from a limited access highway to a four-lane "boulevard" design. And they’ve moved the route slightly to the east to avoid wetlands in Williston. Ken Robie is project manager with the state Transportation Agency.

(Robie) "In order to avoid some natural resource impacts, which are to forested wetlands and to an amphibian pool. We’ve shifted the alignment in the area of Mountain View Road to stay as far as from the natural resources as possible."

(Dillon) Except for the detour around the wetlands, the new plan calls for the road to stay within the route that was acquired in the 1990s. But the road itself would be changed. It The speed limit would be lowered from 50 to 40 miles per hour and there would be traffic lights at the intersections of Route 2 and Mountain View Road.. Robie said the new "boulevard design" will be familiar to many Chittenden County commuters.

(Robie) "You could compare it in a sense to like say Route 15 between St. Mike’s and Susie Wilson Road is a decent comparison to what that configuration would be. It’s similar to that."

(Dillon) Environmentalists have opposed the project because of the impacts on the wetlands and over concerns that it could lead to suburban sprawl. But Sandy Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation said the new design is better.

(Levine) "It certainly reduces the community impacts and the environmental impacts compared to the Circ as originally proposed."

(Dillon) But Levine still questions the need for a project that – according to the state’s own estimates – will shave just four minutes of commuting time

(Levine) "Based on the analysis that was done previously, improving the existing roads would have the least environmental impact and it would meet all of the safety, congestion and mobility needs that this project is proposed for. It would also cost far less than building an entirely new road."

(Dillon) The re-designed road will be reviewed by two federal agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA objected to the original route because it would have destroyed about 34 acres of wetlands. The new alternative affects about 22 acres.

An EPA official said Vermont has made a "good and honest effort" to meet environmental concerns. But he said EPA is not ready to sign off yet on the new highway plan.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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