CHITTENDEN COUNTY'S TWO HIGHWAY BOONDOGGLES: (1) $70 MILLION CONTINUATION NOW RELEGATED TO HISTORY AND (2) THE $40 BURLINGTON PARKWAY NOW DESERVING ITS TURN AT OBLIVION
Chittenden County while a third of Vermont seems to hold a monopoly on giant highway boondoggles. After $40 million in planning and design funds spent, the Circumferential (Circ) highway continuation pegged at $70 million more money finally went to a deserved deep sixing last year. Burlington's City Council vote a few years ago against the Circ certainly aided its demise. Now Burlington could use some help from other Chittenden County towns to kill off the South End's decades old Burlington Parkway, another relic of the now long gone highway age as Vermont car travel likely hits negative numbers for this decade. The Burlington Parkway boondoggle would mount to about $40 million if ever built.
Strangely, a simple two-lane street extending from Flynn Avenue along the Parkway right-of-way with simple intersections at Home Avenue and Pine Street “feeding” the waiting I 189 access stub, a “I 189 Feeder” if you will, would accomplish most of the stated purposes with little expense and avoid the specter of blowing out Pine Street, Lakeside Avenue and generally making a mess of an emerging mixed use neighborhood home to schools, commercial and light manufacturing, and residential areas. Much of the truck traffic to and from the west border along with commuters would use the I 189 Feeder thereby reducing traffic on neighborhoods, relieving traffic numbers on Shelburne Road, and make the mid-Pine Street area attractive for desirable land uses. Besides, it is the Lakeside Avenue connection and pressure on mid-Pine Street that draws the opposition, legimate in my view.
And the immense cost of the overall project—about $40 million—could fund, for example, the complete cost of rail upgrades and outright purchase of necessary passenger equipment for Burlington to Montpelier commuter rail with enough money left over to fund operating costs for a few years (Vermont's two Amtrak trains now receive about $4 million a year in State funds).
Perhaps as important, if traffic represents the concern the way to reduce Pine Street traffic numbers already has been well proven in other parts of the City.
Burlingtonians and other Vermonters already show that with a little incentive they leave their cars home (or altogether) in droves. In the last few years alone, a third of Burlington-Montpelier commuters abandoned car travel for the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) “Link” services (22 buses each workday) and Links now serve hundreds in three corridors out of Burlington with 46 buses. The 260 commuters on the Montpelier Link this coming year represent 10-15% of the peak traffic on I 89 between Waterbury and Montpelier with traffic down on the section by 7% since 2000. The point is we can now manage traffic and actually reduce it on busy streets, whether it is Pine Street or Main Street, as the old days of ever growing car travel has ended--Vermont and the rest of New England States grew an average of 3% for the entire decade, 2000-2010 and the average likely goes negative for the current decade.
The Burlington City Council can call a halt to the Parkway, request a refocus toward a I 189 Feeder and maybe reallocate funds to more needed priorities in this post-auto age, like commuter rail, roundabouts, and programs to encourage further use of less auto-centric modes of travel.