CLF offers compromise on Circ Highway plans

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(Host) Critics of a highway planned for Chittenden County have offered a compromise. They say they’ll drop their opposition to part of the project that will lead to the IBM plant in Essex Junction. In exchange, the environmentalists want the Douglas administration to scrap the rest of the project and agree to measures that will slow the growth of suburban sprawl.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Circumferential Highway was originally planned as a 16-mile loop through the suburbs around Burlington. The next section of the road scheduled for construction is a four-mile, four-lane link between Interstate 89 at Williston and the IBM plant in Essex Junction. IBM wants the road to relieve traffic congestion. And Governor Jim Douglas says the project will help save jobs at Vermont’s largest employer.

Now environmentalists have offered a deal: They’ll give up their opposition to the complete project, and support just the four miles that will lead to IBM. Mark Sinclair is with the Conservation Law Foundation.

(Sinclair) “So we are saying in the spirit of compromise that if the Douglas administration will ensure that are growth controls put in place and more investments in non highway modes of travel – such as bus and rail service – that we are willing to not oppose the IBM section of the highway.”

(Dillon) Sinclair says his group could sue to delay and possibly stop the entire project. But he says it’s not too late to avoid litigation.

(Sinclair) “We hope the governor will take up our challenge to find a third way. He says he’s an environmentalist. The Chittenden County Circumferential Highway represents an investment that can be done better to protect our environment, if the governor’s only willing to entertain our proposals.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says he’s glad the Conservation Law Foundation seems to recognize the importance of the project to the region’s economy.

(Douglas) “That’s an important step in this conversation. I’m certainly willing to talk to anyone about the future of our state, the economic and infrastructure needs. I have met with CLF and other organizations and am happy to continue those conversations. But, you know, to be honest, CLF’s credibility has suffered recently because they have been involved in so-called collaborative efforts in the past, on the stormwater runoff issue for example, and then still brought legal action before the Water Resources Board. So I’m certainly open to any conversations. So perhaps this will be fruitful.”

(Dillon) The governor also says he supports construction of the entire, 16-mile long highway.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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