Governor skeptical of Circ Highway alternative

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas doesn’t think roundabouts are the solution to some of Chittenden County’s tough traffic problems. At the five corners in Essex Junction, he says a roundabout would take up too much room. But supporters of alternative solutions to the Circumferential Highway say roundabouts are the solution. And they say the governor’s got his facts wrong.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas is strongly committed to the next phase of the Circumferential Highway, a road designed to link the suburbs around Burlington. He says the project has been studied for years and he questions an alternative plan put forward this week by critics of the project.

That alternative suggests a series of roundabouts to move traffic through congested intersections. The Vermont Smart Growth Collaborative say the plan could save $30 million over the cost of the Circ and would do a better job of moving traffic.

Douglas is skeptical, especially about the proposal to put a roundabout at the busy Five Corners intersection in Essex Junction:

(Douglas) “Roundabouts work, I think, in some places, but at Five Corners in Essex Junction? I’m not sure how many acres it would take to get a roundabout with so many roads coming in. But the historic Lincoln Inn is there, the Veterans’ Memorial park that the Essex Junction Lions Club and other community leaders have worked so hard to design and build would be affected, municipal buildings. It doesn’t seem to make sense to me there.”

(Dillon) But the engineer who worked on the proposal for the Smart Growth Collaborative says the governor is wrong. Lucy Gibson says no buildings or historic sites would be affected.

(Gibson) “Well I’m not sure how he came up with the conclusion. What we assumed for the Five Corners roundabout is a diameter for the outside circle of the roundabout of 160 feet and that meets the federal guidelines for a two-lane urban roundabout. In order to have the roundabout so large that it would take buildings, it would have to be much larger than that.”

(Dillon) According to Gibson, the roundabout moves traffic better because cars are always moving and not stopped for a series of traffic lights. She says the traffic circle would require small sections of lawn or front yard to be paved.

Brian Dunkiel, a lawyer for Friends of the Earth and a member of the Smart Growth Collaborative, says taxpayers deserve a second look at the Circ Highway. He points out that a study done for the Agency of Transportation showed that the new highway would make traffic worse at Five Corners, not better.

(Dunkiel) “Probably more than $30 million worth of taxpayers money is at risk here. And if more effective, less expensive solutions exist, we’d hope they’d be judged on accurate information not misinformation.”

(Dillon) The Agency of Transportation is now looking at alternatives to the project as part of a court ordered environmental impact study. Douglas says that process means all viable options will be considered.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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