Sunday, March 11, 2012

U.S. 7 improvements stuck in the slow lane

From Burlington Free Press

Commuter traffic is steady on U.S. 7 in Shelburne on Friday. South Burlington will host a public meeting Thursday to discuss ideas for improving traffic flow and addressing safety issues along U.S. 7.
It seems only yesterday — Jim Douglas was governor and Barack Obama was a junior senator from Illinois — but it was six years ago that the Agency of Transportation finished its $32 million, three-mile project on U.S. 7 from IDX Drive south to Webster Drive in Shelburne.
Shelburne has recently looked at that work and found it ugly and conducive to the commercial-strip sprawl that marks the South Burlington section of the road. Some folks in Shelburne are now studying whether they can improve the road’s aesthetics and keep such development at bay.
Just north of the big project’s finish line, however, longstanding issues have been compounded by a growing population that puts more pressure on Shelburne Road near Interstate 189.
The questions involve traffic flow and traffic lights and clog and glut and whether more pedestrian amenities or bike lanes could improve the road experience from IDX Drive north to the Interstate junction.
Frank Mazur, a former state representative from South Burlington who chaired the House Transportation Committee, isn’t optimistic. He said from his winter home in Florida that improvements on the road will be a long time coming.
“You can plan and plan and do more plans,” he said. “We’ve been planning and studying this for years. Now, we’re studying it again.”
The fundamental problem, he said, is the glut of building nearby — with each new housing unit or expanded business adding to the pressure, “and yet we let all the construction go on.”
From his perspective, “more infrastructure” might relieve some of the pressure: connecting roads, bike paths, a bypass behind Lowe’s or the Southern Connector, born as a concept in the 1960s and still on the drawing board, but some of those solutions aren’t politically attractive and others pie in the sky — he mentioned commuter rail as a perennial impractical suggestion. “It’s an endless thing and a battle that goes on forever,” he said.
Mazur recalled that talk of expanding Shelburne Road began in the 1980s, but the big project didn’t begin until 2003. “Chittenden County is small, and it needs a lot,” he said, “and the state has other priorities.”
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