Circ options rolled out for review

Residents express opinions on design details

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The long-running review of alternatives to the Circumferential Highway inched forward last week with a series of meetings designed to gather public input.

A total of more than 100 people attended the three sessions, two in Williston and one in Essex Junction. They were held so transportation officials could hear public comment on design details of the eight alternatives before producing a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Each of the sessions covered a different portion of the project area. The first meeting in Williston on Feb. 7 concerned Vermont Route 2A; the session in Essex Junction the following day covered Park Street and the Five Corners. The Feb. 9 meeting in Williston centered on the proposed highway route between Taft Corners and Williston Village.

The eight options can be broken down into three broad categories: build the Circ or another road along the originally planned route between Interstate 89 and Essex; widen Route 2A and/or replace traffic lights with roundabouts; or combine elements of both plans. A no-build option also remains a possibility.

Much of the comment heard at Tuesday’s meeting revolved around potential obstacles to widening Route 2A and replacing traffic lights with roundabouts, said Rich Ranaldo, project manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Roughly 30 people attended the session, which was held jointly with the Williston Planning Commission.

Ranaldo said some people were concerned that widening the road would affect pedestrian and bicycle access. Others said installing a series of roundabouts would mean there would be no break in the traffic for motorists exiting the dozens of side streets and driveways that line Route 2A between Taft Corners and Essex Junction.

“People still appear to be skeptical about how well roundabouts would work and how safe they would be,” Ranaldo said.

Widening Route 2A would have to overcome a big obstacle, said George Gerecke, Williston’s liaison to the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization. He noted that adding a third or forth lane as some options propose would involve acquiring private property, greatly slowing the road-building process.

During Wednesday’s meeting in Essex, several of the 40 or so people who attended expressed sometimes emotional opposition to road improvement plans.

“It was really clear that folks were really not supportive of any improvements that added lanes” on Park Street or at the Five Corners, Ranaldo said. “They don’t want more traffic coming through the village center.”

At last Thursday’s meeting, residents living in Williston’s Brennan Woods and South Ridge subdivisions were among the roughly 50 people who attended. The neighbors revisited previously expressed concerns about the impact on a highway running so close to their homes and to nearby Allen Brook School, Ranaldo said.

Others opposed any alternative that included an interchange at U.S. Route 2, Ranaldo said. The original Circ design called for the highway to run under Route 2 and had no interchange. But some alternatives, which include a boulevard-style road, do include a connection to Route 2.

Not everyone was opposed the interchange, noted Gerecke, who attended both Williston meetings. Some residents who live in nearby Williston neighborhoods liked the idea of hopping on a highway near their homes.

The latest meetings are part of drafting an updated Environmental Impact Statement for the Circ. As originally proposed the Williston segment would run from I-89 to Essex Junction, with an interchange at Redmond Road.

Construction of the segment had begun in May 2004 when a federal judge ordered the project halted in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups that said the existing EIS was outdated.

Ranaldo said transportation officials will now refine designs based on the public input and model the affect each alternative has on traffic throughout the region.

After that, a draft EIS that will be produced and the preferred alterative picked. Ranaldo estimated the final EIS will be completed by fall.