July 15, 2010By Greg Duggan Observer staff
The long-delayed Circumferential Highway has cleared one hurdle in an approval process that still requires numerous permits, and the Vermont Agency of Transportation believes the Williston portion of the road could enter construction by 2013.
VTrans wants to build the Circ with the “A/B Boulevard” design, which would run 3.7 miles from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 117 in Essex.
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers determined the design to be the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative in terms of impacting water and wetlands. The LEDPA designation frees up VTrans to pursue the other permits necessary for construction of the Circ.
“The boulevard style roadway that we have determined is the best alternative is the only thing on the table,” said John Zicconi, director of communications for VTrans.
As originally proposed, the Circumferential Highway was a 16-mile road running from Williston to Colchester. Only a section in Essex has been built.
The four-lane boulevard running through Williston would have a 40 mph speed limit and a raised median. The Williston portion of the Circ would have signalized intersections at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road, and would not permit the construction of any new businesses or developments along the route, Zicconi said.
As part of the boulevard design, the Circ would impact 60 acres of wildlife habitat in Jericho and 51 total acres of wetlands at two sites in Essex and one in Williston. Yet the design calls for the preservation of 237 acres of habitat and 285 acres of wetlands.
“Basically, we will turn low level wetlands on marginal farm land into high quality wetlands,” Zicconi wrote in an e-mail to the Observer.
The plan is the result of approximately six years of environmental study by VTrans, following a judge’s order in 2004 to conduct an environmental impact study.
“We have spent a lot of time and money doing the most complete job that anybody has ever seen,” Zicconi said. “The fact that the Army Corps agreed with us is very good news.”
Zicconi said VTrans will now complete a final environmental impact statement, which it expects to release by the end of the month. A 30-day public comment period will follow. VTrans and the Federal Highway Administration will then take about a month to review comments, after which the Highway Administration will issue a Record of Decision.
Eventually, VTrans will pursue water quality permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Agency of Natural Resources, as well as an Act 250 permit and a stormwater permit.
Tim Dugan, a spokesman with the Army Corps of Engineers, emphasized that the LEDPA determination does not mean the Corps will issue a water quality permit for the Circ.
“We’ll continue to review this proposal and try to reduce the impacts” to wetlands and water, Dugan said.
If all permits are approved, Zicconi said, the Circ could be ready for construction by 2013.
Williston’s Selectboard has pushed for a boulevard-type design, albeit one that featured interchanges instead of signalized intersections at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road.
“We’ll have people come in from the Agency of Transportation … and talk about what the plans really are before we make any sort of recommendation,” Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig told the Observer.
He said he expects the Circ to be discussed at the Selectboard meeting scheduled for Monday evening.