The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission in Vermont is crafting a plan to rework parts of Interstate 89 in the Burlington, South Burlington and Williston area. A recent public meeting on the Envision89 concept led to a number of questions about the project’s potential environmental ramifications.
Interstate 89 runs along Vermont’s northwest corner through Burlington. It then cuts into the center of the state past Montpelier and crosses the state to White River Junction. In Chittenden County, where Burlington is located, it runs 37 miles and has seven interchanges. The Chittenden County I-89 2050 Study is assessing future transportation needs. Commission Executive Director Charles Baker began a virtual public meeting explaining some of the goals of the project. “We are looking at the entirety of 89 within Chittenden County. We are looking at 2050 which is almost 30 years away from now and seeing what seems to make sense given assumptions about what that future might look like. Another task is to really think about the implementation plan absent the need to replace infrastructure which is also a big consideration here. Infrastructure is over 60 years old now on the interstate and getting to appoint in its life where a lot of it will need to be replaced. We want to be prepared with ideas of how to replace it with the best investment possible.”
The Envision89 plan offers restructured interchanges at Exits 13 and 14 in South Burlington and a possible new interchange at Hinesburg Road with expanded or new multi-modal capabilities. The plan would also expand travel lanes through the more congested urban center.
Many callers during the two-hour virtual session focused on the environmental impact of the proposals.
Sarah Sciortino said given the climate emergency creating a plan that relies on more vehicles is unacceptable. “We really do have a lot of work to do in order to make Burlington sustainable and we brand ourselves to be sustainable. This money should really be going to transforming this infrastructure. We really have to incentivize train transit, electric bike riding and just public transit in general. This project really doesn’t serve to re-imagine our transportation system.”
Roseanne Greco said the planning board needs to rethink its approach to the study. “Your whole presentation is about concrete and exchanges and car traffic.”
Burlington City Councilor East District Progressive Jack Hanson weighed in to reinforce the need to consider the plan’s impact on the climate. “We are in a climate emergency and transportation is the biggest sector that needs to transform and rapidly.”
Baker: “This is that project. Like weigh in on how to get there.”
Hanson: “OK. I don’t feel like this is that project. I want to see us using these resources to answer the question of not how do we reduce traffic congestion or shorten the time that people have to wait getting on and off the intersection. I want to answer the question of how do we cut down emissions and how do get people out of cars and how do we make it safer, more accessible, more affordable for people to walk, bike and use public transportation.”
Steve Crowley summarized the view of many of those who criticized the plan. “Why build for the past instead of the future? And it really comes down to that.”