State downplays Circ Highway report

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(Host) A highway planned for Chittenden County will not create more jobs, and could slow employment growth in some towns.

That’s the finding of a new study that looks at the economic impact of the Circumferential Highway.

But the state is downplaying the report. A Transportation Agency official says the differences are statistically insignificant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Buried in an appendix of a massive environmental and economic impact analysis of the road project is a chart that projects job growth through three decades.

Employment in Chittenden County is expected to increase by 36,000 jobs from the year 2000 to 2030, just due to normal economic trends.

But if the project is built, South Burlington and Burlington could see a little less growth, the study says. Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation says the analysis calls into question a basic argument for the new highway.

(Levine) "A $90 million transportation project should be providing economic benefit to the communities where it’s located. In Chittenden County, you’re having less job growth with the Circ Highway than if you do nothing."

(Dillon) The study says that Chittenden County will get about 100 fewer jobs if the new roadway is built.

By contrast, an alternative plan that calls for new roundabouts and improvements to existing roads would create up to 36 more jobs.

(Levine) "It shows that there are economic benefits from the smart growth alternatives – that they keep economic activity in Chittenden County. It also shows that the scarce transportation dollars that we have should be used for projects that help the economy and help the environment."

(Dillon) John Zicconi is a spokesman for the Transportation Agency. He says opponents like Levine are focusing on projections that don’t mean anything. He says the numbers are statistically insignificant.

(Zicconi) "We’re showing fractions of a percent differences. Overall, three tenths of one percent, which is well within the margin of error of the statistical model which is 3-4 percent. So what this tells me is that there is no change."

(Dillon) The report doesn’t give a reason for the projected change in employment. And Zicconi says the highway will still help the local economy.

(Zicconi) "The question is, do we want traffic so choked that people can’t get from their home to their jobs? Anytime you relieve congestion, or prevent congestion from coming, that’s an economic benefit to the region. We don’t believe it serves the economics of the state at all to have Chittenden County so choked with traffic that people can’t get too and from work."

(Dillon) But Levine says alternatives to the project will cost less and do as good a job in improving traffic flow.

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

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