Construction start still in the air
By Jess Wisloski
The traffic backing up along Essex Road during rush hour might be a thing of the past as early as 2018.
Transportation officials for the state confirmed last week that purchases and easements for 25 properties along the state highway have begun. It’s an early step in the process of adding turning lanes, a full-time traffic signal and widening the roadway to ease traffic congestion in the area.
“At this stage, we just have our plans recorded and the documents related to the pieces of property we’ve purchased,” said Chris Hunt, a Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) right-of-way manager.
The work on Route 2A is the primary Williston improvement to come out of the first phase of plans that were proposed by the Circ Alternatives Task Force back in 2013. The task force, which was made up of representatives from former Circ communities Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester convened over several years aiming to find traffic-relief alternatives after the completion of the Circumfrential Highway was quashed in the spring of 2011.
Thirty-four projects in total, with an estimated cost of $99 million were presented at that time, to take place over three phases. The Phase I and II implementation projects were approved for inclusion in the VTrans Capital Program, but most of Williston’s projects were slated for Phase III.
The town’s only Phase I project was the $1.5 million in improvements to the intersection of Route 2A and James Brown Drive, often called the “James Brown Drive project,” according to town planners.
While construction was scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2016, little has taken place aside from the purchases, Hunt said.
Norman Boyden, who owns Green Mountain Clock Shop on Essex Road, is one of the property owners who was approached by the state, and sold some of his land in March, after he was approached last year.
“They’re taking 40 to 50 feet of my front yard… The road will be twice as wide as it is currently,” he said.
“I’m not sure how exactly I’m going to like the road change, I’m not sure how exactly how I’m going like my front yard turned into a dust bowl for a few months, but I guess that’s how life is sometimes,” Boyden said. He said some neighbors are considering not selling, from what he’s heard, but he personally wasn’t up for a battle.
Two construction cones on his front lawn mark where the new roadway, including the promised improvements of a walking sidewalk and deeper drainage culverts, will end.
One thing he benefitted from by discussing the sale is increasing the capacity of his current drainage ditch, he said.
“The plan they first brought me had an 18-inch culvert that was in my front yard,” he said. “They said they had to replace it, so I made sure they put a bigger culvert in the plan,” because his driveway periodically washes out when there’s heavy rain. “They did go back and redesign the culvert, so I will get a bigger new one when the construction is done.”
Town Planner Ken Belliveau said the project had many pieces, but the town wasn’t involved in permitting for any of the work because it is a state highway.
“There’s a signal, they’ll be putting in turn lanes on either side of the intersection, and a center turn lane,” he said. “There is going to be a sidewalk for a portion of it, and I believe there are some additional drainage improvements…So all those things are part and parcel of the project,” he said.
While a traffic signal currently exists at James Brown Drive, the light is not permanent. It was added after the new Eco Car Wash opened to help facilitate traffic in the area temporarily.
“What the state really wanted to do was just build the whole project all at once, but that meant it would’ve taken years before the signal arrived,” said Belliveau.
Neither Belliveau nor the state had an immediate projected date of when work would commence, or when it might conclude.
“All I want to know is, when are you going to put the darn thing in, because we want the project to be there, and we want it to be finished,” said Belliveau.
“The last time I had any sort of conversation with anyone from the state on this is that they needed to acquire some additional right-of-way to put in all the improvements on it that were a part of it,” he said.