Chittenden County Study I-89 Public Consultation Invited
Imagine Interstate 89 in Chittenden County to 2050. How will people live and travel the 37-mile corridor more safely, sustainably, and efficiently over the next 28 years and beyond ?
The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, the Vermont Agency of Transportation and other partners have been working for two years to answer this question. On Tuesday, they will present their findings and invite the public to comment.
The project aims to develop a comprehensive plan for the I-89 corridor that “identifies and prioritizes investments and multimodal strategies to ensure safe, efficient and reliable travel for all people, whether by car, bus, walk or cycle through Interchanges,” said Eleni Churchill, transportation program manager for the planning commission.
It’s about planning for the future, said Dale Azaria, senior fellow at the Conservation Law Foundation who is on the advisory board.
“The biggest challenge was getting attendees to think creatively about a better transportation system, not just more freeway lanes and new exits,” he said in an email. .
Wider freeways with more exits “only encourage more driving, which will steer us in the wrong direction when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise, safety and quality of life,” he said.
I-89 in Chittenden County is one of Vermont’s busiest stretches of freeway and an area of continued growth. The Vermont Natural Resources Council sees the study as a way to design better travel routes and make improvements to outings 12, 13 and 14 – and also as “a critical step” to building climate resilience in the Chittenden County, said Kati Gallagher, of the Sustainable Communities Program. board director, who is part of the advisory board.
In partnership with state, county, and nonprofit partners, the study assessed existing traffic and land use conditions along the corridor, created visions and goals, and identified five sets of improvements, such as work on exits to improve bicycle/pedestrian safety and traffic flow. — while keeping in mind the expected growth and funding improvements as a way to reduce future maintenance costs.
“We believe we have developed a balanced plan that looks to the future taking into account climate change, but also the mobility needs of residents, commuters and visitors to our county,” Churchill said.
Highway studies have been done in the past, but none quite like this one, said Joe Segale, director of the office of policy, planning and research at the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Segale himself conducted one of these studies in 1998, when he worked at the planning commission.
“It wasn’t as complete as this one,” he said. “It takes into account other modes like walking, cycling and public transit, and then it’s integrated with land use…so it’s a very strong study.”
In developing the plan, the commission sought input not only from transportation, business and environmental stakeholders, but also from municipalities and residents through a public process. And he looked at socio-economic data and how the plan might affect marginalized communities.
The biggest challenge? Predicting future travel trends in a post-pandemic world, with so much uncertainty about where people will live and how demographics, land use decisions and new technologies will affect the way they travel, a she declared.
Goals include improving safety on the freeway and at interchanges, improving access, supporting anticipated economic growth, preserving and improving the condition of I-89, minimizing environmental impacts and promoting compact growth that supports livable, affordable and healthy communities.
For Gallagher, the study was an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past. Experience has shown that the increase in capacity for individual cars and the widening of roads have not been sustainable. Stakeholders now have the opportunity to strengthen Vermont’s land use goals and prevent sprawl, she said.
“Implementing Vermont’s smart growth goals is more urgent than ever as we work to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of which come from transportation,” she said.
The project, which began in May 2019, is in its final stages, with a final public meeting scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. She will be held remotely via Zoom.
Churchill said she hopes people will attend the presentation remotely and provide input into the transportation plan. “Our state-to-state system is important and we want everyone who is interested to have the opportunity to give their opinion,” she said.
The meeting’s response will be included in a draft to be presented to the I-89 advisory committee later this month, and the final report will be released this summer. The plan will be monitored and reassessed periodically to ensure it evolves over time, the planners note in the presentation.
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