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Town comments on Circ

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

The Williston Planning Commission submitted comments about the Circumferential Highway to the Vermont Agency of Transportation on Friday, the last day to do so regarding the final Environmental Impact Study for the boulevard.

The Environmental Impact Study was conducted following a judge’s order in 2004. The study was completed in July after VTrans and the Federal Highway Administration reviewed designs and potential impacts of the Circ.

The Circ is meant to be a 16-mile road running from Williston to Colchester, though only a portion in Essex has been constructed. Plans for the road have changed in the years since it was conceived, and the latest iteration in Williston calls for a four-lane boulevard running from Interstate 89 to Vermont 117 in Essex. The design calls for signalized intersections at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road.

The Williston Planning Commission, in its comments regarding the final Environmental Impact Study, touched on six points about the Circ design. The first point of the commission’s letter, written by Planning Director Ken Belliveau, acknowledges the commission’s support for the boulevard design of the Circ.

“The Planning Commission believes that the current proposal of the boulevard design with a landscaped median and a 40 mph speed limit is the proper way to construct this roadway in Williston,” the letter says.

The second point of the letter emphasizes the commission’s desire to see a 40 mph speed limit on the Circ. The Planning Commission also notes its support for at-grade crossings to access the Circ from U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road.

The fourth point of the letter, “Bicycle and Pedestrian considerations,” outlines several areas where the Planning Commission wants the Circ to provide safe crossings and access: the bike path near Allen Brook School, the proposed primitive path running adjacent to I-89 and the intersections of the Circ with Mountain View Road and U.S. 2. The commission also wants bikers to have access to the Circ between Mountain View Road and U.S. 2.

The fourth point of the letter also requests pedestrian and bike improvements along Mountain View Road and U.S. 2.

“The movement of bicyclists and pedestrians is an important element in Williston’s planning efforts, and their safe movement should be an essential component of the CIRC’s design,” the letter says.

In the last two points of the letter, the Planning Commission asks for the Circ to provide direct access to Chittenden Solid Waste District facilities on Williston Road and to minimize impacts to the Allen Brook.

Belliveau said the Planning Commission made similar comments about the Circ in 2007.

“The current comments of the Planning Commission are as much of anything a restatement of their viewpoint going back to 2007,” he said.

Selectboard updated on Circ process

On Aug. 23, VTrans Project Manager Ken Robie met with the Selectboard to provide an overview of the design and answer questions. The board did not submit comments regarding the final Environmental Impact Statement.

“Part of the problem was they only had three board members there,” Town Manager Rick McGuire said of the decision not to submit comments. “The other part of the problem is that one board member had a different view from the other two. It wasn’t clear what official position they’d be able to take as a board at that point.”

While Chairman Terry Macaig and Judy Sassorossi supported the Planning Commission’s letter, board member Jeff Fehrs was less enthusiastic on one point. He questioned the decision to have at-grade intersections rather than grade-separated interchanges.

“Williston supports the Circ Highway. This is not a question of that at all,” Fehrs said. “But because we have to live with it forever, I just strongly feel that our desires for what these intersections should do … should have been taken into consideration.”

Robie explained that the latest design, including the at-grade intersections, was developed to minimize the impact to wetlands. Building grade-separated interchanges would have required the use of more land, and therefore damaged a greater amount of wetlands.

Robie said people will be able to comment on the Circ design again during the Act 250 process.