Circ alternatives carry high price tags

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Alternatives to the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway project in Williston and Essex could cost up to $64 million if fully implemented, according to a transportation study conducted by Resource Systems Group Inc.

The Williston-Essex Network Transportation Study, aka WENTS, was unveiled Jan. 9 during a joint meeting of the Williston and Essex selectboards by RSG Senior Director Bob Chamberlin, who used a plumbing analogy to characterize the clogged flow of traffic in the region.

“Essentially, we’re dealing with a fixed set of pipes, those being streets and roads. The Circ Highway was a very big pipe, and that’s no longer on the table,” Chamberlin said. “Our job is to figure out how we can make strategic investments in this area such that we can actually reduce the amount of time people are going to be spending in their cars.”

The last time the selectboards of Williston and Essex got together for a joint meeting was June 18 of last year. The respective boards agreed to endorse further study of a Circ alternative involving an extension of Redmond Road that would connect with Vermont 289 via a bridge over the Winooski River.

The bridge proposal was incorporated into the WENTS study as part of a package of transportation improvements that carry an estimated price tag of between $46 million and $64 million. Other projects in what RSG termed “Hybrid Strategy Package 1” include a road that would connect Vermont 289 to Allen Martin Parkway in Essex and a series of capacity improvements at key intersections, including the rush hour quagmire where Vermont 2A intersects Industrial Avenue and Mountain View Road.

A second strategy package, with an estimated cost between $28 million and $48 million, is more modest in scope and includes a revamped interchange design at Exit 12 off Interstate 89, plus a street that would bisect Vermont 2A to connect Harvest Lane and Sycamore Street.

Not included in the cost estimate of the second strategy package is a proposal for an additional connector road between Williston Road (U.S. 2) and Mountain View Road. Nicknamed “Innovation Avenue” in the study, the proposed road would utilize right-of-way formerly dedicated for the Circ Highway project between the Southridge and Brennan Woods neighborhoods.

Michelle Boomhower, Metropolitan Planning Organization director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, said preliminary analysis suggests a CCRPC preference for the second strategy package.

“The conclusions seem to be pointing in terms of the costs and the benefits toward Strategy Package 2 as having the largest bang for the buck in terms of improvements,” Boomhower said.

Williston Selectboard member Chris Roy disagreed.

“Frankly, putting a bridge in is the only (option) that increases capacity of the overall infrastructure,” Roy said. “Instead of polishing the inside of the hoses or the pipes we already have, it actually gives us another pipe, thereby relieving pressure on all of the pipes.”

Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs asserted that the additional bridge over the Winooski is the only way to relieve traffic on overburdened North Williston Road.

“If there’s no bridge, one could argue that North Williston Road is not sufficient capacity-wise to handle the traffic it will need to,” Fehrs said.

The strategy package decision will hinge on a future vote by the Circ Alternatives Task Force. Each of the four Circ communities of Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester has three members on the task force.