State OKs $200k to study alternate truck route through city

VERGENNES — A high-ranking Vermont Agency of Transportation official told the Vergennes City Council on Tuesday the agency is moving forward with the next steps on what could be a $40 million alternate truck route through northern Vergennes.
VTrans Policy, Planning and Research Director Joe Segale told the council the Legislature has already approved $200,000 to begin studying the project, which aims to alleviate truck traffic through downtown Vergennes. 
It is possible that route could touch Ferrisburgh or even Panton, depending on how ongoing talks between officials of those communities resolve discrepancies between the city’s 18th-century charter and the land Vergennes has been taxing for more than a century and a half. 
Addison County Regional Planning Director Adam Lougee, who is familiar with those talks, earlier on Tuesday told the Independent he was optimistic about their outcome. 
At the meeting Segale updated the council and about 30 others who attended via Zoom about the status of a proposed roadway that tentatively could leave Route 22A near Panton, head northeast across Otter Creek over a new bridge, cross state-owned farmland, turn due east, and eventually reconnect with 22A near the VTrans park-and-ride lot.
That route, or one similar, was chosen by VTrans and a consultant as a preferred option during a 2019 study that included public input and consultation with regional town officials. Use of Routes 17 and 7 was eyed, but rejected due to strong opposition from Addison, New Haven and Ferrisburgh.
The choice of that route also built on studies conducted in 1995 and 2002 that Segale acknowledged were gathering dust until several years ago, when former city mayor Bill Benton suggested a study of the Routes 7 and 17 alternative as a possible solution.
On Tuesday Segale, who will serve as the project manager if and when the alternate route is built, possibly as soon as a decade, sought the council’s continued support for this latest effort, which he received. 
He said the agency wanted to “make sure you’re OK with us moving forward” with a project that could remove almost all of the 430 large through trucks that rumble through downtown Vergennes daily, almost all bound for points north.
City, regional and state officials also believe the truck route could open up land for new development, possibly residential, that could ease a housing shortage and help the area’s economy and schools. 
City officials call the proposed roadway the “Vergennes Economic Corridor,” and VTrans officials have said one reason the project has gained traction in the agency and the Legislature is its potential as an economic engine.
Segale explained the next steps, beginning next year. Essentially, the agency will take a deeper dive into the process, with help from the regional planning commission and the assumption the agency gets the green light from the other local towns, with the steps to include:
•  “Public and stakeholder engagement.” This will include, Segale said, direct contact with possibly affected property owners.
•  “Screening and refinement” of possible alternatives.
•  An “Implementation Plan.”
•  “Alternatives Evaluation and Recommendations.”
“It’s going to be comprehensive,” Segale said. 

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