October 23, 2014

Selectboard considers roundabout resolution

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Three other towns have already approved statement

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard will consider a resolution next month that expresses strong reservations with a proposed alternative to the Circumferential Highway.

The resolution, which has already been adopted by the governing boards in Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester, targets the Smart Growth Collaborative’s proposal to install a series of roundabouts on Vermont Route 2A.

The resolution, which was generated by Essex Junction, requests that an environmental study currently underway measure each alternative against a list of standards. It also asks that the environmental impact statement consider the Circ as one of the alternatives.

Essex Junction Village Manager Charles Safford said the governing boards in Essex Junction and Essex approved the resolution jointly because of concerns about the “roundabout solution.” Safford said residents in the two municipalities see potential problems with the plan.

“Our concern is that whatever alternative they consider should be given the same level of public and technical scrutiny as the Circ has historically received,” Safford said.

Safford also said the boards in Essex and Essex Junction did not want existing plans for the Circ to be ignored. He said municipal planning in the two communities has been based for years on the eventual arrival of the 16-mile highway linking Williston, Colchester and Essex.

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire said Monday night he did not believe the Selectboard should consider the resolution.

“I don’t see where it’s necessary given the alternative study is underway,” McGuire said. “I don’t see the need to give any extra direction.”

However, Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons and Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs both expressed an interest in considering the item.

Preliminary work began on the Williston stretch of the Circ last spring, but a federal judge halted the project in May. U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions said a new study of the project that more thoroughly examined the environmental impact of the Circ and other transportation alternatives needed to be completed.

The resolution lists 11 specific concerns that should be considered as part of the environmental impact statement of alternatives to the Circ. The items echo concerns that have already been raised publicly about the roundabout plan, including its impact on pedestrian safety, the widening of Vermont Route 2A and the impact on traffic volume through Taft Corners and Five Corners.

The wording of the resolution excludes the Circ from needing to address the 11 concerns, but Safford said that does not hold the Circ to a lower standard.

“The boards feel comfortable that the Circ does meet these standards,” Safford said.

Fehrs said he saw a couple of items he would like to see changed on the resolution, but believed the concept of the resolution was “fine.” Safford said he believed the Essex boards would be willing to alter their proposal to add Williston concerns as long as there are no substantive changes to the items already listed.

Lyons said she wants to hear more details about the various proposed alternatives to the Circ, including the roundabout solution.

“I’ve heard concerns that the decision has already been made and that the alternatives won’t be taken as seriously as the Circ proposal,” Lyons said.

However, she said she might be interested in a resolution that announces “strong reservations” with the roundabout proposal. Lyons said the Selectboard has previous noted its aversion to seeing a roundabout at Taft Corners.

The discussion was one in a series the Selectboard has had in recent months about the level of involvement it should have during the review of the highway’s environmental effects. The Environmental Impact Statement process requires the state to consider all options when deciding whether to build the highway.

The resolution advocates a strong voice for the municipalities. One item says the selected alternative should be “acceptable to the local legislative bodies, businesses and citizens of the communities … where the implementation of the chosen alternative will likely have the greatest impact.”

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