BURLINGTON -- The year the Southern Connector was first proposed, a Texan occupied the White House, a failed coup attempt was launched against the government of Iraq, and U.S. troops were embarked on a long and bloody campaign halfway around the world.
At least something has changed in 41 years -- the look and feel of the Southern Connector. The oft-delayed highway improvement project was envisioned to relieve traffic congestion in and out of Burlington's South End. Long gone are plans to link Interstate 189 to the Beltway in the Old North End. The new project, renamed the Champlain Parkway, is leaner, less expensive and, city engineers now say, more in keeping with the wishes of Burlington residents and local businesses.
This week, the Burlington Department of Public Works began its public informational campaign for the Southern Connector/Champlain Parkway at the first of four community meetings, being held in advance of state and federal permit hearings scheduled for this fall. In November, the City Council approved the parkway's current design, which would cost $18 million, down from an earlier $35 million price tag. Assuming no further delays -- a tall order for the bureaucratically beleaguered project -- construction would begin as early as next spring, with work expected to run through 2009.
The Champlain Parkway would connect 189 to Pine Street and downtown Burlington. The first phase of the project would involve rehabbing and narrowing the stretch of roadway that was built in the late 1980s between the divided, four-lane highway of I-189 and the South End.
The project's second phase would further extend the two-lane, undivided parkway through the South End, adding such improvements as curbs, sidewalks and storm sewers, with new traffic signals at Home and Flynn Avenues and Sears Lane.
The final phase would add new traffic lights at Lakeside Avenue and Pine Street. At its northernmost section, synchronized traffic signals would also replace the four-way stop signs at Maple and King Streets to improve traffic flow into the downtown.
Scrapped from the overall design were plans to build a connecting spur between Pine Street and Battery Streets. That proposal was abandoned after the Vermont Agency of Transportation decided it didn't want to pay to relocate the Burlington rail yard, or potentially get caught up in the environmental remediation of the Barge Canal Superfund site.
The cost to local taxpayers has also been somewhat scaled down. The City of Burlington would only have to foot the bill for 2 percent of the price tag, with the federal government covering 95 percent and the state 3 percent, explains Carol Duncan, a DPW project engineer.
"We think that this project is as buildable and permittable as it's going to get in Burlington," she says. "It's no longer a four-lane highway that's going to cut through neighborhoods or tear down houses to do it . . . From the city's perspective, we're getting a lot for our money."
The proposed improvements to Pine Street are also more modest than earlier proposals, Duncan adds. Dropped from this version was a plan to bury the utility lines along the commercial/industrial corridor, which would have added another $7 million to $8 million to the bottom line. Pine Street will also remain a two-lane, undivided road, but will have new asphalt, sidewalks, grass medians, storm sewers and bike lanes in both directions.
The public is being offered an opportunity to review and comment on the latest Champlain Parkway design before formal hearings are held as part of the state's Act 250 review and the federal government's Environmental Impact Statement. But while minor changes may be made, Duncan notes that, at this point, no major alterations to the project will be considered.
"I really do feel like we've traveled down every avenue and there's no other way for us to go," says Duncan, who's worked on these designs for the last eight years. "If this project doesn't fly this way, this project doesn't fly."
Champlain Parkway Public Informational Meetings will be held on Thursday, July 27, noon - 1:30 p.m. in City Hall Auditorium; Monday, July 31, 2-3:30 p.m. in Burlington DPW at 645 Pine Street; and Thursday, August 3, 6-7:30 p.m. at Burlington DPW. For more information, call 863-9094.