The State of Transportation

Vermont's Agency of Transportation plans to keep us moving in 2004

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

The Missisquoi Bay Bridge has two options that will be advertised for bid: a steel girder design, pictured, and a post-tensioned concrete segmental bridge.

As we go about our business from day to day, it's easy to ignore the underpinnings that keep us supported on the literal highways of life: that infrastructure of roads, railways, airports and bridges we depend on to get us and our goods and supplies safely where we need to go.

It's the business of the Vermont Agency of Transportation aka VTrans to make sure that infrastructure is not only there, but also in good working order. In fiscal year 2004, the agency plans to spend $301.4 million of our tax money to accomplish that. About $107 million, or 36 percent, will come from state funds; $179.7 million will come from federal support; and $14.7 million will be paid by local governments.

As in previous years, the agency's emphasis continues to be preservation of the infrastructure, such as paving and bridge repair, says David Scott, director of program development. That doesn't mean, though, that there won't be other capital projects.

Chittenden County's Circumferential Highway, the planned 15.8-mile, limited-access state highway first proposed as a demonstration project in 1982, whose stated purpose is to intercept and redistribute traffic among the arterial routes serving Burlington from the north and east, has received a lot of exposure in the local media recently, but the Circ Highway is only one of a long list of projects for which VTrans is responsible. Other large capital projects include the widening of Shelburne Road a $39 million project divided into two parts: a one-mile section in South Burlington and two miles in Shelburne to accommodate the 24,000 vehicles that travel the road each day; the Bennington Bypass a $13.5 million, limited-access highway addition to bypass U.S. 7 and Vermont 9; and the $40 million Missisquoi Bay Bridge reconstruction in Swanton, which replaces the causeway and drawbridge on Vermont 78 connecting Swanton to Alburg.

For many of these projects, the state shares costs with federal and local governments. For example, on the Shelburne Road project, $35.5 million will come from the federal government; the state will contribute $1.9 million and $600,000 will come from the municipalities involved.

Until 1997, the state provided management oversight for all projects under its authority. "In '97, we started a program that let the municipalities manage their own projects," says Scott. Such is the case, for example, with the widening of Kennedy Drive in South Burlington. The $6.7 million project is scheduled to begin next year and is managed by the city of South Burlington. The city of Burlington is in charge of its Southern Connector, which someday is expected to connect Interstate 189 to downtown.

Another example is Burlington International Airport: $3 million is earmarked for work at the airport in fiscal year 2004, including land acquisition, south-end development, taxiway/apron construction, airport layout plan update and snow removal equipment. Of that amount, federal funds will cover $2.7 million. "Generally speaking, Burlington Airport is its own entity," says Scott, "and we just pass through federal money that comes in. For state airports, we do ongoing upkeep work from resurfacing runways to taxiways for example, in Rutland, they're adding a parallel taxiway to the runway so small projects to maintain and improve efficiency.

"Rail is much the same," he continues. "We're looking at repairing some of the bridges because we own the line; we own the bridges and do some general track upgrades."

Many of the state's highway bridges are in need of repair or replacing. A big one is the Lime Kiln bridge connecting South Burlington and Colchester. "It's due to be under construction next year. For historic reasons, we have to put in another concrete arch to replace the one we're taking out. For us, that's an unusual design; we haven't built a concrete arch in a number of years."

The agency will build the bridge adjacent to the existing one, which will continue to be used during construction.

To prepare the roadbed for the Lime Kiln bridge, the agency filled in one of the quarries on the St. Michael's College property where the bridge sits. "We used fill from the hospital construction," says Scott, "and the new bridge will be there. That gives us a hard surface for the road to be on. The hospital was really helpful; they had a lot of fill to get rid of, and we had a need."

An attractive drive-and-ride lot was opened this year at Chimney Corners on U.S. 7 in Milton, just .4 of a mile north of the old gravel-and-pothole one. The new lot is adjacent to the VTrans Chimney Corners depot, which can be seen behind the parking lot.

Filling the quarry also got rid of a nuisance for St. Michael's, says Scott. "It was dangerous. They found 12 to 13 cars in the bottom, as well as one of the old steam shovels.

"What most people don't know is that there was a giant tunnel underneath that connected the two quarries that we plugged up," says Scott.

While "transportation" usually brings to mind expenses like the $49.8 million scheduled for statewide maintenance of state-owned highway systems, which is outlined in the agency's fiscal year 2004 budget, at VTrans, it also covers things we don't initially think of when we hear it. Those are things like pedestrian and bike facilities around the state or improvements to rest areas; improving impaired waterways to comply with federal storm water regulations; or developing scenic byways such as Smugglers Notch, including shoulder revegetation, signing, construction of an information kiosk, parking and renovations to the trailhead and pedestrian bridge.

Blueberry Lake Dam in Warren is due for repair of its low-level drain and spillway in '04. It's in the Transportation capital program. So is $3.5 million for purchase of interstate rail passenger service. VTrans also sees to it that the 511 travel information network and road weather information system is up and running.

In the '04 budget, $1.8 million is earmarked for acquisition of buses, bus shelters, vans, software, communications equipment, study and vehicles to serve organizations that transport the elderly and persons with disabilities.

"We funnel money through to the public transit agencies around the state," says Scott. "We have helped fund some short-range transit plans, and we do look at bigger statewide needs and help coordinate those where it goes beyond service area to service area."

The agency also builds and maintains the park-and-drive locations for commuters. "We just opened the new Colchester one at Exit 17," says Scott, "a nice new one there very stylish and we're planning others. Vergennes is one we're getting pretty close to construction on at routes 7 and 22A."

There's $900,000 in the 2004 budget for "development and evaluation of multi-modal facilities in Essex Junction, Bellows Falls, Wilmington (Dover Valley), Middlebury and Montpelier.

The big issue coming up one Scott doesn't think a lot of people have picked up on is that "Chittenden County could be a tad dicey getting around town the next year or two." He's talking about the long list of construction projects scheduled to be under way.

This rendering illustrates the path of the next-planned leg of the 15.8-mile long Chittenden County Circumferential Highway. The completed section can be seen at top right.

If all goes well and lawsuits are settled, the South Burlington portion of Shelburne Road's widening will begin. Due to start this year, the project was delayed when opponents obtained a restraining order that put things on hold. The state was able to have the order lifted, but opponents then had it reinstated. "Right now, we're chugging along; lawyers are filing the briefs," says Scott. "We're hoping it gets resolved over the winter, with our goal being to not hinder any construction in the spring."

The agency also hopes to resume work on the Circ Highway next year, which will eventually involve not only extension of the highway from Vermont 117 to I-89, but also construction of an interchange on the interstate. "There's a plan between both parties to try to move along the hearings so that a decision can be made in the spring so it won't delay things," says Scott.

"South Burlington is hoping to turn Kennedy Drive into four lanes the length of it," he says, expanding his list of plans for construction around Chittenden County next year.

Riverside Avenue in Burlington is due for a complete facelift what Scott calls "a heavy maintenance project take off the pavement, reshape the road, underground the utilities so that will cause some obstruction. With the traffic and narrowness of the roadway, it will be hard not to have some delays there."

Finally, he mentions North Street, another Burlington project planned for construction, "and Lime Kiln bridge."

Williston Road commuters won't want to forget the continuing work on the U.S. 2 overpass at Exit 14, which is scheduled for completion next year.

The VTrans website is www.aot.state.vt.us. It carries updates on large projects, such as the Circ Highway and Shelburne Road widening, plus PDF files of information on the capital program and four-year project develoment plan.

Originally published in November 2003 Business People-Vermont