Stalled Circ wears on those stuck in local traffic
June 30, 2011By Adam White
The sign hanging over Larry Currier’s garage reads “Never Better.”
It does not refer to the traffic going past his house on Industrial Ave. in Williston.
In fact, there are days when traffic is so bad that Currier cannot even turn left out of his own driveway, and instead makes a right and drives several miles out of his way rather than fight two lanes of unyielding motorists. Other times, he simply stands at the edge of his lawn near the corner of Industrial Ave. and Vermont 2A, and surveys the bumper-to-bumper congestion stretched in every direction.
“There’s almost no way to describe how bad it has gotten,” said Currier, who has lived near the intersection since 1972. “Car after car, just sitting there idling.”
Much like those cars, the potential solution to Vermont 2A’s traffic problems is going nowhere fast. Though the Federal Highway Administration has green-lighted the project through a Record of Decision authorizing its development, the Circumferential Highway has stalled at the state level, according to Vermont Secretary of Transportation Brian Searles.
“Though not insignificant, the Record of Decision is only one step in the process,” Searles said. “It is permission to proceed with development, not an order to proceed. We do have the Federal OK for this project, but there is still much, much more to talk about.
“Even after all these years, a fresh look at what we’re trying to achieve is still necessary.”
But those whose everyday lives are most impacted by local traffic issues have seen enough.
Dick Allen has lived on Bittersweet Circle in Williston for 14 years, and said that it has been “nearly impossible” to exit the road onto 2A during peak traffic hours. Allen thinks that the successful completion of the Circ would “take at least 50 percent of the traffic off 2A.”
“If they had done this the way they were supposed to, it would have been finished 20 years ago – and probably at about one-tenth of the cost,” Allen said.
In fact, the rising price tag of the Circ project is what has caused it to grind to a halt, according to Searles. He estimates the cost of the approved A/B Boulevard Alternative at $60 to 80 million, not counting “anticipated legal expenses” stemming from the approximately 560 acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat that would be impacted by the project.
“There is no doubt that this project would end up back in court and, in fact, the state has recently received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threatening to veto the project,” Searles wrote in a letter to the Observer. “The state now finds itself in exactly the same place as we were in 2002: two federal agencies with diametrically opposed positions, with a costly legal battle again on the horizon.”
But residents wonder about environmental impacts caused by the existing traffic conditions, and why they haven’t received similar attention from groups like the EPA.
“What about all the exhaust from those cars that are sitting at a stoplight while it changes three (or) four times?” Currier said.
When it comes to impact, no one would be more affected by the Circ than the local landowners whose property would abut the proposed four-land, divided boulevard.
William Burnett’s family has owned Cherry Hill Farm on Williston Rd. since 1869, and the A section of the Circ would fall within 500 feet of the original farmhouse on the property.
Yet Burnett has, from the start, been in favor of the project – despite having had similar construction in the past change the face of his family’s farm forever.
“When the (Interstate 89) came along, it took away 11 acres and split the farm in half,” Burnett said. “It took away our water supply, and left us with a 54-acre parcel that we had no access to.”
Burnett said that his family ultimately gave up that land rather than continuing to pay taxes on it. Nearly 40 years later, he supports the construction of the Circ Boulevard for two primary reasons.
“There’s no way you can be opposed to it, because they will take your land by eminent domain – which they did,” Burnett said. “But I also realize the value that it has to the state. In all this time that it hasn’t been built, there is much more traffic in front of this house.”
Searles said that while the greater traffic issue in Williston and the surrounding area involves “a lot of moving parts,” those parts are all “moving very fast,” and he expects “something substantive to be determined by January.”
But those stuck behind the wheel of traffic-locked cars in Williston don’t share that same optimism.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see any of it get done,” Allen said.