BURLINGTON - - After $32 million in investments and 40 years of planning, meetings and discussions, it appeared Monday that city officials and the public have heard enough talk about the Southern Connector. This week, City Council voted unanimously to move ahead with the next phase of the highway- improvement project on Burlington's south side, with construction expected to begin sometime in mid- 2007.
The long- delayed and scaled- back version of the project, also called the Champlain Parkway, got the green light Monday night after only a handful of comments from the public and limited discussion by city councilors. The vote came as Vermont Secretary of Transportation Dawn Terrill warned that lawmakers in Montpelier may be reluctant to allocate any more funding for the project unless they see some wheels turning soon.
"I think it's fair to say that for $32 million, we haven't yet seen enough utility to feel as though there's been an adequate return on this investment," Terrill told the council Monday night. A "no" vote now likely would have killed the project entirely.
The next phase of the project, sometimes referred to as Contracts 1 and 2, will extend the half- mile stretch of I- 189 from Home Avenue to Lakeside Avenue. A separate section of the project further north along Pine Street was put on indefinite hold after the city discovered major soil contamination along a portion of the proposed route. Contracts 1 and 2 have a price tag of about $11 million. The city will have to pony up $220,000. The rest of the project will be funded with state and federal highway dollars.
Secretary Terrill also told councilors that they should initiate a community dialogue soon about what to do with the downtown railroad yard at the end of Battery Street - - the project's proposed terminus. She recommended forming a coalition to discuss options for the rail yard, and emphasized the importance of taking advantage of federal highway involvement while it's still an option.
"It just makes sense from my perspective that we have that discussion now," Terrill said. "It's never going to get any easier."