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Stop Sprawl
Fall 2000 Sprawl Report

States at a Glance: Vermont

Urban Village Mixes Growth, Open Space
"The Circ"
(Chittenden County)
Planned Highway Robs Transit, Open Space

Urban Village Mixes Growth, Open Space

Winooski is perhaps the most accessible and centrally located community in Vermont. Within a two-mile radius there are five colleges, the state's largest medical center, an international airport, dozens of office buildings and beautiful Lake Champlain. Winooski is also just across the bridge from Burlington, considered the economic, cultural and artistic center of Vermont.

Renewal on the River: Winooski, Vt., is redeveloping its historic structures instead of sprawling outward.

The Winooski Community Development Corporation has proposed a downtown development plan that will serve as a model for other similarly situated communities across the country. Located in the heart of downtown on the northern bank of the Winooski River, the 20.4-acre project will combine places to live, work and shop. An additional open space area of 104 acres to the east will also be preserved, creating a 1 to 5 ratio of development to open space.

The development focuses on the historic Champlain Mill, which, as a result of urban renewal efforts in the 1970s was turned into retail stores and offices. However, the developers have recognized the potential for this area to become much more than just the existing strip mall and drive-through bank. The goal is to completely redesign the area into a walkable, bikeable urban residential village.

Residents of this new urban village will have access to a range of services and job opportunities. The plans call for office space, government buildings, residential space along the waterfront, retail shops, a movie theater and a health club. When not working or working out, residents can enjoy the public boardwalk that will be created along the waterfront, a planned craft and food market, or the 104 acres of open space nearby. With limited parking, pedestrian-friendly streets, bike lanes and access to transit, residents will also have a choice of transportation options.

Photo by Truex Cullins & Partners Architects

"The Circ"
(Chittenden County)
Planned Highway Robs Transit, Open Space

What would you do if you had $10 million to spend on a transportation system? Convert 250 miles of unused rail tracks to bike paths? Buy one year's worth of public-transit services? Provide for more than two years' worth of rail service? If you live in Chittenden County the answer is, build one mile of the new "Circ," the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway Project.

In a classic miscalculation of the factors that both cause and relieve traffic congestion, highway planners in Vermont are trying to pave their way out of congestion. The Circ, if completed, will be a 15.8-mile-long, four-lane divided highway running from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont Route 127 in Colchester. Of course, $168 million in taxpayer dollars might not be too much to pay if the result were a dramatic reduction in traffic, commute times and air pollution. But studies show that as we build more roads, more traffic is generated. When one factors in growth and delays from construction, the project will be obsolete almost before it is finished.

The price tag also fails to reflect the environmental damages associated with the project. The Circ passes through much of Vermont's most endangered ecosystem -- a rare, ancient habitat called sandplain, created eons ago by glaciers. The impact on this delicate area goes well beyond the Circ itself. By building the highway through previously undeveloped land, the state and county are throwing the doors open to suburban sprawl.

Fortunately, there's an alternative to the Circ -- an alternative that provides a better long-term solution for commuters, the economy and the environment: public transportation. By focusing funding on rural bus service, bike-lane enhancements, improvements to existing roads, carpooling, transit incentives and land-use planning, Vermonters can achieve better results at a lower cost while protecting open space and reducing air pollution.

States at a Glance | Introduction | Resources | Acknowledgments

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