By Luke Baynes
In 1982, Michael Jackson released “Thriller,” the best-selling album of all time. Cal Ripken Jr. played the first of his 2,632 consecutive Major League Baseball games. The Falklands War began and ended. And the municipalities of Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester formed a union municipal district for the shared goal of the construction of the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway.
In its embryonic state, the crescent-shaped “Circ” would have connected Vermont 127 in Colchester to Interstate 89 in Williston. Now, due to various environmental, legal and fiscal issues, it extends only from Vermont 2A to Vermont 117 in Essex.
The original Circ was a proposed beltway of the so-called Eisenhower Interstate System, which produced the primary Vermont portions of Interstate 89 in the early 1960s. Little did the 34th U.S. president know that his most lasting namesake would still be debated more than 40 years after his death, in a town less than half the size of his hometown of Denison, Texas.
But such was the case when the Williston Selectboard, a full two and a half hours into its May 21 meeting, launched into its most heated Circ-related debate of the past year.
The discussion began innocuously, as Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau relayed the results of the Williston Planning Commission’s May 15 analysis of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission’s presentation to the Selectboard on May 7.
At the May 7 Selectboard meeting, Michele Boomhower of the CCRPC gave the board three “Circ alternative” options for further research by the regional commission:
Option 1: An additional access point to Interstate 89 between Exits 11 and 12, extending north to Mountain View Road, with an intersection on Williston Road.
Option 2: An extension of Redmond Road, which would connect Mountain View Road to the current southern terminus of Vermont 289, via a bridge over the Winooski River.
Option 3: Neither of the previous options, with a contingency to explore other area-wide transportation improvements.
Belliveau said the Planning Commission didn’t reach a decision on the matter due to a lack of substantive information, but, if pressed, would likely lean toward option three.
Following Belliveau’s statements, North Williston Road resident Seth Maciejowski provided public comment in favor of option two.
“I think the harder piece of this is doing the bridge across the Winooski—the ‘B’ section (option two),” Maciejowski said. “It’s almost like, if you can get rid of that, you can solve the intermediate problem of the current traffic … and still have the door open for the ‘A’ segment (option one) later on.”
Selectboard member Chris Roy responded by illustrating on the seldom-used chalkboard on the eastern wall of the Town Hall Meeting Room that option one would result in greater mitigation of Williston’s overall traffic congestion.
“Unless we have more capacity, there will never be any relief in Williston,” Roy said. “We are fooling ourselves if we think all the other towns will very patiently and politely hold off and not do anything while we engage in a lot of studies…. Personally, my goal is to make one half of the A/B segment so that then, eventually, the second piece can be built.”
Debbie Ingram disagreed with her fellow board member, suggesting that the Circ is dead, and that it’s time to bury illusions that it might someday come to fruition and explore different options.
“This is the same information that we’ve been spinning round and round for 40 or 50 years now,” Ingram said. “You’ve heard the old saying—you do the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result, and that’s the definition of insanity. To me, I just think we need to move on.”
Selectboard member Jay Michaud posited that by choosing option three, Williston risks being left behind the other Circ communities, which are further along with Circ alternative projects.
“The transportation funds are out there. We have to take advantage of them, or lose them,” Michaud said. “For everybody in Williston, we owe them to pursue this to the next level to see what our options are out there…. I just don’t think we can sit idle any longer.”
Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig closed the debate by requesting that Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire ask the CCRPC what the “drop-dead date” is for the Selectboard to reach a decision.
At the previous meeting, Boomhower set a June 4 deadline for the board’s formal response.