Federal study says Circ Highway won’t create jobs

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(Host) Business and political leaders have argued for years that the 16-mile-long Circumferential Highway is essential to Chittenden County’s economic growth. But a new federal study that looks at the environmental and economic impact of the new road says the project won’t create more jobs. The study has provided new ammunition for opponents of the Circ.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Circumferential Highway is designed to link the suburbs around Burlington. The four-lane road will cost around $180 million and it’s supposed to relieve traffic congestion near the IBM plant in Essex.

IBM is a big booster of the project. So is Governor Jim Douglas. He says the highway is needed to create jobs in the region.

But a new study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration projects job growth in the area with or without the new road. The study finds that as the population shifts over 20 years, the road will lead to greater job growth in some areas, such as Essex, but fewer jobs will be created in Burlington and South Burlington.

(Brian Dunkiel) “There’s no net increase in jobs. It’s just a shifting of where jobs are located.”

(Dillon) Brian Dunkiel is a Burlington lawyer who represents the Friends of the Earth environmental group. He says the new environmental assessment looked at how growth patterns in the region will be affected by the new highway. According to Dunkiel, it’s wrong to suggest the Circ Highway will be an economic engine for the region:

(Dunkiel) “The information contained in the draft shows that the proponents of the highway’s suggestion that the Circ will be part of the state’s policy to promote jobs is not accurate. And in fact, the data’s quite remarkable in that it shows there’s an almost equal shift of jobs from town centers to outside of town centers.”

(Dillon) Dunkiel says the Federal Highway Administration should conduct a more detailed study of the environmental impact of the new road. He says the study should look at alternatives, such as greater use of public transportation.

The highway is a top priority for the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. A chamber spokesman says the organization continues to support the highway. And Rich Ranaldo, project manager at the Agency of Transportation, says the roadway is clearly needed to foster economic growth in the region.

Ranaldo says the difference in job growth in the towns with or without the highway is relatively small. He says more jobs will be created in areas near the road because of greater accessibility.

(Ranaldo) “With the computer projections that we have, and with the accessibility projections, there’s greater accessibility in the areas directly around the Circ Highway and thus a relative change in potential economic development.”

(Dillon) The public has until June 16 to comment on the environmental assessment.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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