EPA opposes some Circ Highway plans

Rte. 2A upgrade preferred, agency says

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants upgrades to Vermont 2A instead of a new Circ Highway through Williston.

A letter from the EPA’s regional office in Boston cites wetland impacts in stating the agency would not approve permits if plans for road construction along the Circ’s original route move forward. However, a state official said wetland impacts could be mitigated or the highway design changed to satisfy the EPA.

“There is a long way to go before the final decision,” said Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi. “No one should think this sounds the death knell for any of the alternatives.”

State and federal transportation officials are in the middle of lengthy study called an Environmental Impact Statement that will determine the best road-building option.

The study has whittled dozens of alternatives to three major options: a limited-access highway or boulevard along the originally planned Circ route; widening Vermont 2A to three or four lanes through Williston and Essex while replacing some intersections with roundabouts; or a hybrid that uses parts of each approach.

The EPA’s letter states the 2A alternatives have the least impact on wetlands. The limited access highway and hybrid alternatives affect 28 to 47 acres of wetlands, depending on the design. The 2A improvements only impact about 2 acres of wetlands.

The EPA is just one of more than 200 organizations and individuals that weighed in during the highway study’s public comment period, which ended last week.

Zicconi said the EPA’s recommendation comes as no surprise. He said the state has long known that no matter which alternative is chosen there will be permitting issues.

Nor is the EPA’s recommendation the final word, Zicconi said. The agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. would have to sign off on the recommendation if an alternative other than the 2A improvements is chosen.

State and federal officials will weigh all comments and choose a preferred alternative next year.

The Circ as originally proposed decades ago called for a limited-access highway from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 127 in Colchester. Only the stretch through Essex has been constructed.