A plan to erect a park-and-transit center at Vermont’s busiest intersection is making slow and steady progress.
Unlike the often-agonizing pace of traffic at Williston Road and exit 14 of Interstate 89, cautious momentum for the proposed facility is by design, officials say.
The transit plan would give Burlington-bound motorists the option of parking near the junction and shifting to shuttles, carpools or bicycling and walking paths. The proposal takes another modest step forward at a public forum set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and Conference Center in South Burlington.
The meeting’s location is appropriate to the discussion: A two- or three-story garage might rise within the footprint of the conference center’s parking lot at the hotel’s northeast edge.
The purpose of Thursday’s meeting is to gather new information and to share a of existing conditions in the area commissioned by the Winooski-based Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.
In a best-case scenario, the facility might be built in about five years, “give or take,” Bob Penniman, who chairs the project’s steering committee, said Tuesday. “It won’t take decades.”
But, he was quick to add, “It’s not a done deal. It will only happen if the political will is there — and the need.”
Chittenden County and the traffic it attracts from other northwest Vermont communities is ripe for at least two such “intercept facilities,” he said; another remains in the planning stages near the western terminus of Interstate 189.
Penniman is no stranger to traffic decongestion. He’s the of the Campus Area Transportation Management Association (better known as CATMA), a group that has greatly reduced the demand for parking in Burlington’s Hill Section by its core members: the American Red Cross, Champlain College, Fletcher Allen Health Care and the University of Vermont.
Other local partners, including the city of Burlington, have embraced the model as a way to attract visitors, customers, clients and patientsThe feasibility of an exit 14 park/transit park is being studied actively by CATMA members as well as city planners in Burlington and South Burlington, the Burlington International Airport, Mall and the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Some of the money is in place, Penniman said. A $7 million earmark, secured in 2005 by Vermont’s congressional delegation, will help: $3 million will pay for construction of the “missing lane” at the intersection near Staples Plaza; the remainder is approved for a southbound I-89 exit spur that would ease motorists’ entrance to the facility.
The underlying land at the site is owned by UVM; the Sheraton manages the existing parking lot under a long-term lease — and would retain its allotment of those roughly 425 spaces, Penniman said. The new structure might accommodate a total of 1,000 vehicles.
Sprawl? 'Gosh no.'
An efficient park-and-shuttle system would not be a cure-all, said Michele Boomhower, the regional planning commission’s director of transportation.
But she believes it would greatly help.
“It’s an opportunity to address congestion in the core of Burlington and South Burlington, and an opportunity to get people out of their , but to their destinations,” she said.
The structure likely would include what she called a few “complementary” enterprises, perhaps even a few .
“You might have a dry cleaner drop-off/pick-up; you might have a day care center; you might have a mini-mart and coffee shop for some incidental shopping.”
Might it grow into a destination for customers — and thereby contribute to sprawl in the area?
“Oh, gosh no,” Boomhower said. “We’re talking small. We’re not talking retail. The purpose is to serve existing businesses. I can’t think of a way that it would prevent people from wanting to go downtown or to the University Mall.”
Whose best interest?
South Burlington Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux, who serves on the project’s steering committee, said other perceived downsides would get a thorough airing at the upcoming meeting.Among them: concerns that the hub would encroach on the adjacent Centennial Woods (it won’t), and that bus traffic and exhaust might compromise the quality of life in nearby residential communities (the jury’s still out).
“We’re still in the scoping stage,” Rabidoux said. “That’s when you determine if it’s in the communities’ best interest: Are there archeological or wetland or traffic impacts that might raise a red flag or cause you to revise the plans?
“That’s why we’re rolling it out to the public,” he continued. “Ultimately, the public will determine if it’s in the best interest of the public. Hopefully, the public will represent themselves at the meeting Thursday night.”