Residents sound off on Circ Highway alternatives

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Residents sounded off on roundabouts and expressed a wide range of other opinions during a meeting in Williston last week to discuss alternatives to the Circumferential Highway.

About 60 people turned out for a lively two-hour session held Nov. 17 at Williston Central School. It was the third of three meetings on the subject last week — the others were in Richmond and Burlington — and followed numerous other public sessions held earlier this year.

Most who spoke out seemed knowledgeable about the topic. Several had specific ideas about which among the eight alternatives should be chosen and how it should be configured.

For example, as Larry Pesesky of the Louis Berger Group, the consultant helping conduct the meeting, indicated places where roundabouts would be placed on Route 2A under one alternative, Williston resident Larry Currier chimed in. He said one roundabout was too large to fit in the existing right of way.

“You just took my house and my neighbor’s across the street,” said Currier, who lives at the intersection of Industrial Avenue and Route 2A. The remark elicited chuckles from the crowd.

“I’m not taking anything,” Pesesky replied good-naturedly. He emphasized that the next step of the process will analyze such factors as right of way in greater detail.

The meetings represent the start of the third part of the five-step, court-mandated process to determine whether the long-debated Circumferential Highway should be built or another option is picked. The process of completing a new Environmental Impact Study has to date narrowed dozens of initial options to a list of eight choices, which can be more broadly grouped into three categories and a “no-build” alternative.

Last week’s meetings will help guide officials as they look at the alternatives in detail on the way toward making their final choice. About 100 people in all attended the sessions.

“Hopefully, people who participate will understand the process better and understand the way decisions were made,” said Rich Ranaldo, project manager for the Vermont Department of Transportation. He said the meetings also allow transportation officials to learn how the public feels about the various proposals.

Pesesky conducted the proceeding in an informal manner, allowing the public to interrupt as he presented each alternative.

Jeff Perrin of Essex Junction said changes on Route 2A will do little to solve congestion at the Five Corners.

“It seems like all these options keep current amounts of traffic funneled through the Five Corners,” he said. “I’d like to know how all of these will ease traffic flow there. I’d just like to see consideration of the points beyond” Route 2A.

Mike Coates, who lives off Route 2A in Williston, worried that if the thoroughfare was widened it could worsen the already difficult process of exiting side streets.

“It defeats the purpose if people can’t get out,” he said.

Long-time supporters of the Circ urged officials to choose that option, which is still on the table. Others liked one of the alternatives.

Williston resident and business owner Sharon Gutwin said she preferred the option that calls for following the Circ’s original route with a boulevard rather than a divided highway.

“I see the limited access boulevard as a beautiful compromise,” she said. “If you wanted to cross it on foot you could.”

Pesesky told the crowd that the number of alternatives has been narrowed from 50 to 23 to eight during previous parts of the yearlong process by which transportation officials will arrive at a final decision.

The goal of whatever option is chosen is to ease traffic on the overburdened Route 2A. About 19,000 vehicles a day travel the road between Williston and Essex. That number is expected to increase to more than 30,000 vehicles by the year 2025.

Over the next several months, state and federal officials will study the options in greater detail, focusing on how each would improve traffic along Route 2A while considering their environmental and socio-economic impacts.

This spring, officials will produce a draft Environmental Impact Statement and hold formal public hearings. They will then select a preferred alternative and produce the final EIS this summer.

As originally proposed decades ago, the Circumferential Highway was a 16-mile loop road running from I-89 in Williston to Colchester. Just a small section of the highway in Essex has been built to date.

Construction of the Williston segment had begun in May 2004 when a federal judge ordered the project halted until an updated Environmental Impact Study was completed.