By Stephanie Choate
November 27th, 2013
The final round of transportation improvements planned as alternatives to the canceled Circumferential Highway are out of Williston officials’ hands and into the purview of the Vermont legislature.
The Circ Alternatives Task Force—made up of representatives from Circ communities Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester, plus planning groups and interested parties—held its final meeting at the Williston Town Hall Thursday.
The group voted unanimously to advance Phase III of a package of improvements developed in the 30 months since the plug was pulled on the Circ. The improvements will go to the legislature, which must approve funding. Projects must also go through permitting processes.
“In my opinion, this is just a terrific piece of work,” said Brian Searles, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Gov. Peter Shumlin made a brief appearance to thank the task force for its work.
“I really wanted to stop by for a second to thank you for the extraordinary work that you’ve done here,” he said. “You have exceeded my expectations…. You’ve done an excellent job identifying and solving our transportation challenges so we can move in ways that are much smarter and much more achievable than the myths that we continued to carry forth.”
Jeff Carr, Regional Planning Commission representative for the town of Essex, asked whether VTrans—which has been known to move slowly on some projects—has the bandwidth to complete the projects.
Searles said the future of many road funding programs is uncertain. The Highway Trust Fund is scheduled to be out of money by 2014 and it is uncertain whether money will be transferred from the general fund. He added that driving patterns are changing—newly minted 16-year-old license holders are more willing to take buses and trains.
He said the state needs to reinvent some of the ways it gets revenue. Vermont is $240 million short every year, roughly half of the capital program.
“We aren’t even doing 50 percent of what is necessary,” he said.
Sen. Dick Mazza added that the transportation plan will be competing with the entire state for funding.
Still, Michelle Boomhower, assistant MPO director for the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, said the plan is realistic.
“Nobody wants to overpromise and raise expectations and then not be able to deliver,” she said. “Staff has been trying to be conservative and realistic.”
THE ALTERNATIVE PLAN
The projects were separated into three phases. Altogether, the task force agreed on 34 projects with an estimated total implementation cost of $99 million. The Phase I and II implementation projects were approved for inclusion in the VTrans Capital Program by the legislature in the 2012 and 2013 sessions. Most of Williston’s projects are slated for Phase III. The town’s sole Phase I project is $1.5 million improvements to the intersection of Vt. Route 2A and James Brown Drive. Construction is scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2016.
Though Williston Selectboard member Christopher Roy said Williston supports the plan “100 percent,” he said Williston has many projects in the far-off future.
“We’re the only (town) with construction taking place when my second grader is driving,” he said.
Williston was one of the communities that would have been most impacted by the Circ, and therefore didn’t have many of the transportation projects planned
“We’ve talked about the conundrum we find ourselves in, being the community most impacted by A/B not being done and thus not having anything on the drawing board,” he said, referencing segments A and B of the Circ, which were planned to connect I-89 and the southern end of Vermont Route 289. “We appreciate the effort folks have made, the only think we ask the state is don’t forget about us.”
Searles encouraged Williston representatives not to “read too much into” the completion dates, saying some might be completed faster than anticipated, while others might hit bumps in the road.
“If this package was completed to construction exactly the way it is laid out in this plan, it would be a miracle,” he said.
Other Phase I projects include:
Improvements to Interstate 89 Exit 16 in Colchester, estimated to cost $5 million.
A “crescent connector” road in Essex Junction, at an estimated cost of $3 million.
Vt. Route 2A and Vermont 289 intersection improvements in Essex, set to cost $800,000.
Regional improvements including transit shelters and “pocket park & ride” spaces, upgrades of traffic signals to adaptive signal control technology.
Williston has one Phase II project—a new traffic signal at U.S. Route 2 and Trader Lane, estimated to cost $550,000. Construction is set to begin in fiscal year 2018.
The bulk of the projects planned in Williston are scheduled to begin construction between fiscal years 2018 and 2028.
A four-stage project to rework I-89 Exit 12, managed by VTrans, is scheduled to begin in FY 2019, with a new shared-use path under the interstate and a new lane on Route 2A from Marshall Avenue to the I-89 northbound on-ramp. Stages 2 to 4—grid streets and intersection improvements, “diverging diamond” interchange improvements and a boulevard-style upgrade to Route 2A —are a decade or more in the future. Altogether, the improvements would set the state back $41.5 million.
The second VTrans project—improvements to the intersection of Route 2A, Industrial Avenue and Mountain View Road—is scheduled to begin in FY 2020.
Projects under local management in Williston include:
Widening of Mountain View Road to create shared-use shoulders, costing $3.5 million, slated for FY 2020 construction.
A $2.8 million shared-use pathway between Taft Corners and the Village, slated for construction in FY 2020.
Filling in sidewalk and shared-use path gaps on Harvest Lane and Vt. Route 2A, with construction estimated in 2018.
Williston would also benefit from a new commuter service between Essex, Williston, Waterbury and Montpelier.
For more information, visit www.ccrpcvt.org.