Parties, candidates take credit for Circ ‘fast track’

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(Host) Democrats say there’s some politics involved in the federal government’s help for a Vermont highway project. Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Douglas announced this week that the Bush administration had placed a Chittenden County roadway on a fast track for environmental review. Douglas took credit for the federal initiative. But the Vermont congressional delegation and Democratic Governor Howard Dean say they’ve been pushing for the project since early fall.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Bush administration says the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway will now get a faster environmental review.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Douglas says he lobbied Vice President Dick Cheney on the issue when Cheney came to the to state for a fundraiser in September.

(Douglas) “I told him about the importance of this project to creating more jobs for our state and improving the economy in Vermont. And I’m very, very pleased that the process is going forward. Since then, I’ve been continuing to fight for this project, by contacting the White House on a regular basis and urging them to get it back on track.”

(Dillon) Vermont’s not the only state whose highway projects got a boost from the White House close to Election Day. The Washington Post reported Friday that the Bush administration gave preferential treatment to highway projects in half a dozen states where there are closes races for governor or the U.S. Senate.

Governor Howard Dean says his administration has been lobbying for the project as well. The governor says he was not surprised by the timing of the announcement.

(Dean) “I think there’ll be a fast track list and that this is mostly politics. I’ll be surprised if the Circ Highway gets built any faster because of this.”

(Dillon) Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who’s a Democrat, says Douglas can’t take all the credit for the highway being on the list. He says that he and Senator James Jeffords also put a lot of pressure on the administration.

(Leahy) “I’ve been here for both Republican and Democratic administrations and it is the usual thing that the administration will take something that they were going to do anyway and make sure that a member of their party announces it a few days before the election.”

(Dillon) The Circumferential Highway is a $180 million project that’s designed to link the suburbs around Burlington. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency said the federal Highway Administration had not considered the full range of environmental impacts that the project may cause, including sprawl and air pollution. The new fast track review is designed to quickly iron out the differences between the two agencies.

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

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