A rendering of the Champlain Parkway depicted in the draft Plan BTV South End
A Vermont Supreme Court ruling has cleared the way for Burlington to pursue a contentious and repeatedly delayed plan to build the Champlain Parkway, a two-lane road that would run from Interstate 189 through the South End.
Designed to alleviate traffic by providing another route into the city, the project was green-lighted in an Act 250 permit from the state in 2012. That spawned four lawsuits from individuals and companies over traffic concerns and property disputes, three of which the city settled.
On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled on the only remaining case — an appeal brought by Charles Bayer, owner of the Innovation Center on Lakeside Avenue. Bayer, who could not be reached for comment, is concerned that the Parkway, which would pass by the Innovation Center, will generate excessive traffic near his property. He appealed to the state's highest court after the Environmental Court upheld the permit decision in a July 2014 ruling, while adding conditions that require the city to monitor traffic and work with Bayer to address potential problems.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court justices agreed with the lower court. The decision emphasized that the Environmental Court "did not find that the project 'will' but rather 'may' cause unreasonable traffic congestion or
unsafe conditions" and noted that the traffic forecasts were based on "inflated numbers."
"From how I understand the project today, this was the last remaining piece of major uncertainty about whether or not the project could be be built," an energized Mayor Miro Weinberger told several reporters at his office Friday afternoon.
Plenty of design and planning work remains — under the current schedule, construction wouldn't start until the summer of 2018, Weinberger said. The parkway was originally estimated to cost $30 million, but Weinberger said he "would not be surprised" if that number gets revised upward. But the project will largely be funded by federal money secured years ago; the city is obligated to pay just 2 percent of the costs, according to Weinberger.
Even with major legal hurdles out of the way and a permit in hand, the Weinberger administration will still need to work to convince the public that the parkway is both possible and desirable.
First conceived of during the 1960s, the project has undergone many iterations and has stopped and started so many times that the words "Champlain Parkway" frequently prompt skeptical head-shaking and chuckling among residents.
Weinberger acknowledged that "people have been saying the Champlain Parkway is two or three years out for a long time." What's different this time, he continued, is that the city has the necessary permits. He didn't rule out unforeseen challenges, however. He said, "This is a project that has had unusual twists and turns going back a long time, so maybe there's something we haven't anticipated, but I do think this was the last major piece of uncertainty."