Burlington City Council approves contract to build Champlain Parkway

Street signs at intersection with people crossing
The intersection of King Street and Pine Street in Burlington, seen in January, is one end of the proposed Champlain Parkway. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — City councilors Monday unanimously approved a $45 million contract to build the first phase of the Champlain Parkway, a proposed north-south thoroughfare linking the city’s South End and downtown.

With the approval of the contract, the proposed 25-mile neighborhood road – replete with elevated crosswalks and mixed-use lanes – is expected to break ground in July, Chapin Spencer, the city’s director of public works, said at Monday night’s meeting.

The first section of the project would create a new street from Home Avenue to Lakeside Avenue and renew an existing section of Pine Street from Lakeside Avenue to Kilburn Street. Subsequent contracts would establish the “Railyard Enterprise Project,” which would allow downtown traffic to bypass the dense King and Maple neighborhood and restore a degraded section of Park Road from Interstate 189 to Home Avenue.

The proposal, first conceived as a four-lane freeway in 1965, has met with staunch opposition from local residents for as long as it has been considered.

Recently, a community group filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the city of failing to properly account for the Parkway’s environmental impact. But city officials deny those claims and have the blessing of the Federal Highway Administration on their side.

Two construction companies, SD Ireland and Kubricky, are said to be working together to construct the Parkway. The city received no other offers, contributing officials said Contract 57% more expensive than expected. The total includes $41 million for civil works and $4 million for contingencies.

Inflation and increased fuel prices related to the war in Ukraine have also pushed up the price, according to officials.

Champlain Parkway
A map of the proposed route of the Champlain Parkway. courtesy photo

Although the price of the project has risen sharply, its old age allows it to benefit from a now-phasing-out funding model where the federal government pays 95% of the project. The state of Vermont is providing an additional 3%, so the city must contribute 2% of the total price—about $4.4 million for the first phase of the project.

But if the city doesn’t complete the project, it will have to pay back about $45 million that the federal and state governments have spent on the project so far, officials said.

While the contract received a yes vote from all 10 council members attending Monday night’s meeting (aldermen Ali House, P-Ward 8, and Perri Freeman, P-Central District, were absent), some council members expressed reservations about the controversial project.

Councilman Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2, expressed concern about the potential impact on the King and Maple neighborhood. But he said he was confident in the data Spencer provided showing the parkway would not cause an increase in emissions or collisions in the area.

Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East District, said spending money on the Parkway was the right move. But building new roads that prioritize car traffic is not an effective answer to climate change, he said.

“In a way, it’s a missed opportunity,” Hanson said. “The primary goal is not to decarbonize transport. … I don’t see it as the dramatic shift in our transportation system that billions of dollars should go into.”

During a public comment, a Burlington resident identified as “Escher” threatened to block construction of the park path in a protest similar to the one denouncing the use of force by police who patrolled Battery Park in the summer 2020 occupied.

“When this road gets built, I’m going to get all my friends and we’re going to do Battery Park Part Two, but at the damn construction site,” the announcer said. “It’s going to be a long summer, and we’ve been preparing for it for as long as you have.”

redistribution

Also on Monday night, the City Council discussed ways its configuration could look in the coming years.

As part of the decennial election process that accompanies a new U.S. census, the council must draw district boundaries that give every resident of the city (but not necessarily every eligible voter) equal representation on the city’s advisory board.

Otherwise, council members are free to reinvent their current 12-member composition, representing eight wards and four districts (a district is the combination of two wards).

A committee appointed to provide feedback on the current system largely deplored what is now known as Ward 8, which was pulled to disenfranchise the city’s college students in one borough. The district system was also unpopular with council members, who said it made running for office more difficult.

But on certain issues, such as how many districts the city should have, councillors have evaded a solid consensus.

Some councilors requested that each ward be represented by two councilors – a throwback to the previous composition of the council before the latest round of redistribution.

“I think it’s important for voters to have two representatives, one who might have a little more experience than when you bring in a new councillor…so there’s always someone who’s more up to date,” Councilor Mark Barlow said. I North Circle.

But unless council members reduce the number of wards — an idea no council member has advocated — doubling the number of council members in each ward would mean increasing the current size of the board.

Several members supported this idea and said it would lead to more direct democracy. But both Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger and District D-South councilwoman Joan Shannon said they disapproved, arguing that more votes would lengthen the panel’s already lengthy meetings.

“It takes a lot more time at the table when that body gets too big,” Shannon said.

However, Bergman said more debate would be positive, not negative.

Councilor Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2, listens as Mayor Miro Weinberger delivers his State of the City address to Burlington City Council April 4. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“I witnessed the discussion about the giant council being a mess,” he said. “I just have a different opinion. I think we can put people to work and we can get our work done.”

After lengthy discussion, the councilors voted 9-1 to allow city officials to create three maps dividing the city into seven, eight, and 12 boroughs, with Hanson casting the only “no” vote. These maps are expected to be resubmitted to the Council at its May 23 meeting.

In a separate matter, officials from Burlington’s Electrical Department told councilors Monday night that was the case not on target to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. Nevertheless, the city emits less CO2 than when recording fossil fuel consumption began in 2018.

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