Note: We've updated the map accompanying this story to reflect the current proposed location of the pedestrian bridge.
South Burlington is seeking federal funds to build a pedestrian bridge across Interstate 89 near busy exit 14 in order to ease commuting hazards. The plan nudged out a Vermont-y option of installing gondolas to ferry people over the busy highway interchange at Route 2, also known as Williston Road.
The $14 million bridge would be erected over the highway from the backside of University Mall to land near the parking lot at Staples Plaza. Ramps on both ends would bring the span close to the busy commuting corridor along Route 2, which connects Burlington and South Burlington.
The new bridge would be near the existing Route 2 bridge that ferries vehicles over the interstate. People walking or cycling across that span must cross heavy traffic where cars exit and enter the interstate, creating a hazard.
The city council voted to move forward with the grant application last month after a series of public meetings and consideration of various options.
“Gondolas are being used in a lot of places other than just ski areas," explained South Burlington city manager Kevin Dorn, "and it’s a way to span a long distance without having to have all the support structure necessary." Although the idea "had a really cool Vermont feel to it," paying for operators made it impractical, Dorn said.
The city also explored building the pedestrian bridge over the existing one, but that posed traffic and repair complications.
Both sides of the bridge would be on land located in South Burlington.
The city would use $3.4 million in Vermont tax increment financing money to pay its estimated 25 percent share of the cost. The remaining $10.6 million would come from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.
The city applied for a similar federal grant last year but didn't get it. This time, the project has been fleshed out more carefully and the city has a better shot, Dorn said. The answer should come by November. If it's a yes, it would take several years to design and build the crossing to federal standards.
Correction, July 8, 2019: An earlier version of this map showed a bridge location from an earlier proposal, crossing I-89 further to the south.