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Vermont lays out highway plan around Chittenden County

Gov. Peter Shumlin pulled the plug on the long-planned Chittenden County Circumferential Highway five months after taking office, setting in motion the talks that ended in the agreement announced at Williston's Town Hall.

By Dave Gram
The Associated Press

11/26/2013

WILLISTON, Vt. — More than two years after a decades-old plan to build a loop road through Burlington's suburbs was scrapped amid environmental concerns, officials gathered Tuesday to announce their unanimous agreement on a series of alternatives.

Gov. Peter Shumlin pulled the plug on the long-planned Chittenden County Circumferential Highway five months after taking office, setting in motion the talks that ended in the agreement announced at Williston's Town Hall.

"I said in May of 2011 that we've argued about the Circ Highway proposal for too long," Shumlin said. "Meanwhile, traffic congestion had only gotten worse, impacting businesses and the quality of life in this area."

The Circ originally was planned to run for 16 miles from Williston, east of Burlington, to Colchester, north of Vermont's largest city. The goal was to speed traffic around and through key parts of what is Vermont's only real metro area. Some $97 million had been spent on building a 3.5-mile stretch of the road in Essex and planning and designing the rest. Building the project out would have cost about $200 million more, officials said.

Instead, the region will see an estimated $99 million spent on 34 smaller projects designed to alleviate key traffic choke points, along with additional public transportation options, carpooling programs, bike lanes and other measures designed to reduce traffic.

Among the projects: a new "crescent connector road" in Essex Junction that will allow commuters to bypass the village's Five Corners intersection, perhaps Chittenden County's most infamous traffic bottleneck. Other improvements include new traffic signals at some intersections designed to respond to traffic flow, and a "multiuse path" along the Vermont Route 15 corridor designed to promote walking, biking and public transit connections.

Planning for the Circ proceeded in fits and starts, with ground-breaking ceremonies by four different governors and lawsuits over what environmental groups saw as flaws in planning for the road. Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Natural Resources Council led the fight against the Circ, saying that like so many other suburban loop roads around the country, it would only encourage more traffic congestion and more sprawl.

"We're happy with this outcome," Chris Kilian, vice president and Vermont director of CLF said after Tuesday's event. "People think of CLF as being about litigation, and there's no question litigation helped us in getting to here. But fundamentally it's about solutions."

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