FROM NEWS & STAFF REPORTS
BURLINGTON - The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) learned last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the agency's preferred alternative for the next phase of the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway (Circ) passed environmental muster.
The Corps of Engineers determined that the so-called Circ A/B Boulevard is the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) for the purpose of satisfying a key federal milestone known as the Section 404 Water Quality permit process. VTrans applied for this permit in 2007 in conjunction with the issuance of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which evaluated not only the Circ A/B Boulevard but other roadway alternatives as well.
"The Corps of Engineer's determination is a key decision because the Corps cannot issue a water-quality permit unless it first determines that a proposed project is the least environmentally damaging of the practicable alternatives," said VTrans Secretary David Dill. "The Corps' acceptance of our LEDPA recommendation is a significant hurdle that we are glad to have cleared. Our goal is to have our 404 Permit and Federal Highway's Record of Decision in hand this year."
VTrans and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in July 2008 identified the A/B Corridor, which requires that a new exit be built along Interstate 89, as the Circ's preferred alternative. Since that time, VTrans and FHWA officials have been engaged in an intense cooperative effort with the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to permit the corridor as a new roadway.
As a result of these discussions, the original Circ alternative that called for construction of a limited access highway with a 50 mph speed limit was modified to a 40 mph, four-lane boulevard-style roadway with at-grade intersections and a raised median. In addition, the modified Circ A/B Corridor includes a minor shift in alignment to minimize impacts to wetlands and vernal pools, as well as increased bridging of streams to minimize other impacts to both water quality and wildlife habitat.
To compensate for the unavoidable impacts of the Circ A/B Corridor, VTrans has proposed a mitigation plan that includes the protection of nearly 500 acres of wetland and wildlife habitat.
With the LEDPA in hand, VTrans can now issue its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Circ-Williston project, identifying the Circ A/B Boulevard as the Preferred Alternative. A 30-day public comment period follows the issuance of the FEIS, after which Federal Highway officials will issue their Record of Decision. The Record of Decision is FHWA's formal decision document under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Other permits are needed before construction can begin. VTrans hopes to complete design and permitting work such that construction could begin in 2013.