Douglas defends economic potential of Circ Highway

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says a new Chittenden County highway is needed to keep existing jobs. The governor downplayed a recent economic analysis that found the Circumferential Highway would not lead to new job growth in the region.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Douglas is an avid booster of the Circumferential Highway. The 16-mile road is designed to loop through the suburbs around Burlington, and it’s supposed to relieve traffic jams near the IBM plant in Essex.

A study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration found that the highway will not lead to new jobs in the area. The study projected that the road will cause job losses in Burlington as employment shifts to the suburbs.

Speaking this week on VPR’s Switchboard program, Douglas says the highway is a top priority for IBM, and is needed more to keep jobs at the Essex plant.

(Douglas) “First of all, we need to talk about retention of jobs. The largest employer in our state, which has 7,000 jobs of its own and another 1,000 contractors on its campus on any given day, has made it clear time and time again that it’s continued commitment to Vermont depends in part on continued improvement of the transportation infrastructure in Chittenden County. So that analysis suggests that there might be a net loss of four jobs, that’s a lot better than a net loss of 8,000.”

(Dillon) Douglas said in April that the Circ was key to creating jobs in the region. But his administration hasn’t produced an economic study to document that claim. Douglas says the project is important because it’s supported by many businesses in the area.

(Douglas) “The argument advanced by some opponents of the Circ Highway is illogical. To suggest that things won’t be better if we don’t have a transportation system that will smoothly and quickly move people and products and goods around the region. I believe it will make a positive difference and many business people agree.”

(Dillon) But a national study of the economic impact of beltway highways such as the Circ suggests a different outcome.

Lucy Gibson is a transportation planner from Norwich who filed comments with the Agency of Transportation on the economic impact of the new road. Gibson says that highways like the Circ tend to harm local economies. She cites a study that looked at the economic impact of 44 beltway projects around the country. Based on that study, Gibson estimates that the Circ Highway will cause a $106 million annual loss in Chittenden County.

(Gibson) “A lot of studies have shown that total economic activity has gone down in cities with beltways. And there’s a whole host of complex factors that probably feed into that. That’s a statistical correlation. But they include just the general dispersal of people and jobs that beltways tend to encourage actually dilutes the status of the central city as an economic engine and has a lot of cascading declines in investment.”

(Dillon) Highway opponents have called for a more detailed review of both the economic and environmental impact of the $180 million project. But Governor Douglas says recent studies show the road will not cause the suburban sprawl that the opponents fear.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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