By Luke Baynes
Like the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway itself, a decision from the Williston Selectboard on a “Circ alternative” has been a long time coming.
But unlike the oft-discussed, never completed Circ, the Selectboard moved forward Monday by choosing “Major Network Strategy 2” for further study by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and consulting firm Resource Systems Group Inc.
MNS 2, an offshoot of the “B” portion of the scrapped “Circ A/B Boulevard,” would involve an extension of Redmond Road that would connect with the southern terminus of Vermont 289 via a bridge over the Winooski River.
The Selectboard, by a 4-1 margin, voted in favor of MNS 2 over “Major Network Strategy 1”—an additional interchange on Interstate 89 between Exits 11 and 12, extending north to Mountain View Road, with an intersection on Williston Road.
The Selectboard was first presented with the three Circ alternatives at its May 7 meeting. After arguing to a deadlock at its subsequent May 21 meeting, the board extended the June 4 decision deadline to June 18.
After providing the disclaimer that he lives on Governor Chittenden Road and uses North Williston Road every day, Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs suggested Monday that building another bridge over the Winooski River via MNS 2 would alleviate traffic problems on North Williston Road, which is used as a de facto Circ alternative to cross the Winooski River between Williston and Essex.
“Which bridge?” Fehrs asked. “If we don’t build a bridge … then I don’t see any choice but (that) North Williston Road needs to be improved to handle the traffic it’s going to see.”
Selectboard member Debbie Ingram, who cast the lone dissenting vote, was in favor of the third option, which would have looked at other network-wide transportation improvements without regard for MNS 1 or 2.
Ingram stated that she has favored the “no-build” third option from the very beginning.
“The two other alternatives, they haven’t made it through in 40 years, and so I don’t see why we see the need to keep trying to rehash them and keep trying to make them work,” Ingram said. “The amount of money that would be spent on them and the environmental impact they would cause for the very little traffic mitigation that they would affect, I just don’t see them being good options, either one of them.”
Selectboard member Chris Roy fired back, arguing that the choice is not which option to build, but merely which to further analyze in the context of a network-wide transportation study.
“It boggles my mind that people do not want to collect data and have information to make a more informed decision,” said Roy. “If people don’t want to have information or data about either option, that’s fine, that’s a choice people can make and we can agree to disagree. But let’s do it not by suggesting that studying something means committing to it.”
Selectboard member Jay Michaud sided with Roy, despite Ingram’s protestation that studying MNS 1 or 2 would be a waste of money on “red herrings.”
“I believe we need to make a decision, because other communities are developing their own transportation models. We have to do something,” Michaud said. “Give me the bridge or give me the Interstate interchange, because that’s going to move the most amount of traffic.”
After a failed motion by Ingram for the third option, the board voted 4-1 in favor of Fehrs’ motion for MNS 2.
The Essex Selectboard, after sitting in on the first portion of the Williston Selectboard meeting, also approved MNS 2 later in the evening.
WILLISTON-ESSEX NETWORK TRANSPORTATION STUDY
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Williston and Essex selectboards agreed on MNS 2, members of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and Resource Systems Group Inc. returned to the Williston Town Hall meeting room for a public discussion of the Williston-Essex Network Transportation Study.
The goal of WENTS, as it has come to be called, is “to develop a multimodal transportation improvement plan in the (Williston-Essex) study area to address mobility, connectivity and safety,” according to a meeting handout provided by the group.
The study area forms a nonagon shape that encompasses I-89 to the south, North Williston Road to the east, Vermont 15 to the north and the Industrial Avenue/Williston Road intersection to the west.
Based on the results of the respective Selectboard meetings, the study will include detailed analysis of the impacts of MNS 2 on the overall study area.
RSG Senior Director Bob Chamberlin stressed that the study will be multimodal in nature.
“We are very serious about looking at all modes of travel,” said Chamberlin. “Obviously, motorized travel is critical (and) goods movement is critical here, but a big part of the heart of the study area is the growth center that Williston has designated.”
Chamberlin noted that Williston’s designated growth center, which encourages a concentrated density of residential growth, allows for creative and non-traditional solutions to traffic congestion.
“I think it’s quite an interesting and important aspect that we need to take into account when we do our transportation modeling,” Chamberlin said. “It makes bicycle-pedestrian transit service much more viable, so I think it’s a development from a land use standpoint that’s very important to keep in mind.”
Other Selectboard news
FY 2013 municipal tax rate set at 23.23 cents
In non-Circ news, the Williston Selectboard approved a municipal property tax rate of 23.23 cents per $100 of property value for fiscal year 2013.
The figure is slightly lower than the approximately 23.5 cent municipal tax rate approved by voters on Town Meeting Day, due to the fact that the municipal grand list—the aggregate valuation of taxable property—is slightly higher than estimated in March.
The 23.23 cent tax rate is an increase over the 21.5 cent rate in fiscal year 2012.
Put another way, homeowners can expect property taxes to increase approximately $17 per $100,000 of property value.
WATER AND SEWER RATES
The Selectboard approved a sewer allocation rate of $7.50 per gallon for fiscal year 2013.
The rate represents a compromise between a minimum U.S. Consumer Price Index adjustment from $6.37 to $6.52 per gallon and Williston Public Works Director Bruce Hoar’s recommendation of $10 per gallon, which is the rate Williston will pay Essex Junction for sewer capacity over the next five years.
In addition, the board approved a water connection rate of $6.37 per gallon for residential and commercial accounts and $3.19 per gallon for affordable housing. It also approved a sewer connection rate of $7.24 per gallon for residential and commercial accounts and $3.63 per gallon for affordable housing. The increases were in line with the seasonally adjusted CPI increase of 2.3 percent.
The board also agreed to set water and sewer use rates at $3.15 and $4.85 per 1,000 gallons, respectively, for fiscal year 2013, starting with the second quarter billing in August 2012.
The Selectboard agreed to keep ambulance service fees at $525 for basic life support and $625 for advanced life support. However, the board increased the mileage rate from $14 to $16 per mile, based on Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton’s report that annual fuel costs have increased by 15 percent.
The board also kept Planning and Zoning Department fees the same, with the exception of decreasing the home business permit fee from $75 to $30 and increasing the boundary line adjustment fee from $30 to $100.