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Learn about Vergennes truck bypass on Nov. 4

VERGENNES — In advance of a major public forum set for the evening of Nov. 4, an Agency of Transportation official in charge of overseeing the planning, design and engineering process for an alternate commercial truck route around downtown Vergennes offered the city council an update at its Oct. 25 meeting.

VTrans Project Manager Joe Segale said that even though VTrans and a consulting firm had done a preliminary study in 2019 — one that came up with the outline of a preferred route through northern Vergennes — this more thorough look will reboot the process, reconsider all options, and include more public outreach.

Segale told the council this study phase of the process is not expected to conclude until early in 2024, and is also necessary to satisfy criteria for federal funding.

He said outreach has begun with a series of meetings with the council and selectboards in the other six communities: Addison, New Haven, Weybridge, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham. They could all be potentially affected by any alternative, including sending trucks along Route 17.

The current process, which VTrans describes as a Planning and Environment Linkages Study, will be explained in greater detail at the Nov. 4 meeting at the Vergennes Opera House, which will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Masks and COVID-19 vaccinations are required.

It will also be available on Zoom at us02web.zoom.us/j/84988527586, or by phone at  646-558-8656. The Webinar ID is 849 8852 7586.

According to a VTrans press release, the meeting will “address the issue of through truck traffic in downtown Vergennes,” and “describe the study, discuss the study Purpose and Need, and gather community input to help inform the final Purpose and Need Statement to help reduce the impact of large truck traffic on Route 22A and downtown Vergennes.”

It will be co-hosted by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.

COUNCIL UPDATE

At the Oct. 25 council meeting, Segale outlined the  “Planning and Environment Linkages” study. He listed a number of priorities for the study:

  • Looking at the burden the city faces of handling the through truck traffic and “protecting the economic vitality of downtown Vergennes.”
  • Maintaining freight service in Vermont while “thinking of its connection of land use” and considering “land use vision.”

For example, this priority refers both to the impact of trucks on downtown Vergennes, as well as the potential benefits of opening up vacant land in northwestern Vergennes and surrounding land in Panton and Ferrisburgh to development — possibly residential development.

  • Minimizing the impact of through truck traffic on people. Segale referred to “environmental justice,” the growing movement not to site unwanted development next to the economically challenged or historically discriminated against.
  • Minimizing the impact on businesses.
  • Minimizing the impact on the environment.

Segale made it clear all options would be re-examined, including the rough draft of a route on the walls at city hall through northern Vergennes; the alternative of Route 17 from Addison to New Haven Junction, and along Route 7 north from there; and expanded railway use.

The effort will include more extensive outreach, he said, including focus groups, interviews with stakeholders identified by civic leaders, and forums such as the one scheduled on Nov. 4.

“There are lots of other public meetings and workshops throughout the whole schedule,” Segale said. “We’re going to take the time to do this right.”

Councilors had questions for him. Mel Hawley acknowledged a conflict of interest, at least with the potential route as outlined by the 2019 study — it would run through or right past his city home near the Panton line.

But Hawley noted he’d have the wherewithal to sell his home and move elsewhere, unlike the residents of the nearby mobile home park owned and operated by the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT).

“People who live in there don’t have the same option I do,” he said.

Segale said VTrans and the state have a commitment to environmental justice, and would make sure ACCT and park residents are “at the table” during the process.

Councilor David Austin wants to make sure VTrans properly evaluates the Route 17/Route 7 option properly. He made two points: First, that Route 22A through Vergennes has never met state or federal standards for through truck traffic, and its designation as a major truck corridor was improper.

Secondly, Austin said the 2019 study looked at the cost to upgrade Route 17 from its current condition to meet those standards, when the highway already needs work just to meet regular traffic standards.

The true cost of the upgrade to truck standards should be estimated as the difference between Route 17 as an already acceptable highway and a route that meets truck standards, he said.

“It’s not where it is, it’s where it should be,” Austin said.

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