Federal Agency Endorses A Scaled-Back Circ Highway

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(Host) A federal agency has endorsed an idea for a scaled-back "boulevard" in place of the long-planned Circumferential Highway through the towns around Burlington.

But as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, environmental leaders say the road is still a bad idea and should just be scrapped.

(Sneyd) Chittenden County’s Circ Highway has been planned for decades as a limited-access highway bypassing Burlington in a 16-mile loop through suburbs to the city’s east and north.

The state was forced to go back to the drawing board for a segment that would link Interstate 89 in Williston to the first segment of the highway in Essex.

The reason is because of the wetlands that would be lost to make way for the road. So the state suggested shifting from a freeway to a boulevard with a lower speed limit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the new design would be the least environmentally harmful.

(Dill) "Well, I consider it very significant."

(Sneyd) Vermont Transportation Secretary David Dill says the decision means the state can wrap up an environmental study of the road and begin to apply for permits.

(Dill) "We would like to get all of that done so that we’re prepared and in place to begin construction in 2013, assuming the funding’s available."

(Sneyd) The new design would be very different from the stretch that’s already been built. There would be no entrance and exit ramps, except where it intersects Interstate 89.

Instead, it would be more of a suburban road, with a median in the middle and a speed limit of 40 miles an hour.

Dill says the road would still accomplish the goals set for it years ago.

(Dill) "But it cuts off time, it reduces congestion on 2A, so it accomplished our basic objectives. And we had to make these changes, of course, to satisfy the environmental agencies that we were doing our utmost to minimize environmental impact, both on wetlands and wildlife."

(Sneyd) Opponents in the environmental community don’t think much has been minimized.

Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation says wetlands would still be lost. And she says traffic wouldn’t improve much.

(Levine) "It’s troubling that the agency of transportation continues to push forward an unnecessary new road. They have failed to responsibly address either the environmental impact or to address congestion, traffic and safety problems in the Chittenden County area."

(Sneyd) Levine says changing traffic lights and creating roundabouts on Vermont Route 2A would accomplish more at a lower environmental price.      

The Environmental Protection Agency has shared some of those concerns. And it will have to sign off on the project if it’s to move forward.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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