IBM rejects proposal for shorter Circ Highway

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(Host) Vermont’s largest private employer has rejected an offer to negotiate a scaled down version of a controversial highway project. IBM has long supported construction of the Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County. An IBM lobbyist says the company isn’t interested in a compromise plan floated recently by environmentalists.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas is among a long line of politicians who say the 16-mile Circumferential Highway is needed to keep IBM happy.

The computer giant wants the road to relieve traffic near its plant in Essex Junction. Company lobbyist John O’Kane says a recent offer by environmentalists to agree to a four-mile section of road to IBM and postpone the rest of the project for 10 years is nothing new.

(O’Kane) “The proposal made by the environmental group to the governor is one that has been made in private to IBM for three years. Our reaction to it is this is not the IBM highway. It’s not for IBM to decide.”

(Dillon) O’Kane says that the project has been approved by two governors, three Legislatures, and a regional transportation planning group.

The next four-mile length of road reaches from Interstate 89 to a point near IBM in Essex. It includes two sections, known as A and B. O’Kane says that link is needed to allow the company to expand. But he says the entire 16-miles should also be built.

(O’Kane) “The one that has the most immediate impact on IBM are sections A and B. And those are the ones we have lobbied most for, because they impact the ability to get permits locally in Essex and Williston. The other sections have less impact on our ability to get permits, though they do aid transportation.”

(Dillon) But environmentalists say they made a reasonable offer to allow the key section to be built, in exchange for investments in transportation alternatives. Brian Dunkiel is a lawyer who represents Friends of the Earth. He says former Governor Howard Dean supported an earlier round of negotiation over the project.

And Dunkiel says recent studies show the highway won’t work as planned.

(Dunkiel) “A and B causes more sprawl, it doesn’t relieve sprawl. A and B siphons money away from repair of the existing roads and public transportation towards a new highway. So A and B, the studies show, just is not a good investment. However, in light of compromise, in light of finding a third way, the environmental organizations are willing to concede on A and B to make sure before an additional $80 million is spent that further studies or initial studies are completed, and that proper analysis is done.”

(Dillon) But there seems to be growing opposition to a negotiated settlement. The town of Colchester has asked the governor to reject the offer. And Governor Douglas said on Thursday he wants the entire, 16-mile long project.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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