Merchants Decry Demise of Southern Connector - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Merchants Decry Demise of Southern Connector

Frank Bouchett Frank Bouchett

Burlington, Vermont - January 23, 2009

More reaction Friday to the news that the Southern Connector highway in Burlington is near death. Downtown merchants say that's bad news for the future of the marketplace. Some residents aren't happy either.

It's been on the drawing board for 30 years-- and a small portion was actually built back in the late 1980s. But now federal officials have told the city it's the end of the road; make a decision or it's dead. For those living in the area that news is disappointing, but not a surprise.

"I think the people of Burlington are supportive of the Southern Connector going through, but I think it's taken so long to happen that we're so used to not having it," said Chip Strong of Burlington. "I think the general consensus is it probably won't happen due to the length of time."

This is where the problem lies. The city wants the road to veer off of Pine Street and wrap around the rail yard, ending up at the bottom of Battery Street. But the feds say that can't happen because of the extra costs, contaminated soils and perhaps more importantly, the rail yard is designated a historic district. So the federal government says the only way the Southern Connector can get funding is if it continues straight down Pine Street and into downtown Burlington. They want the city to wrap up its environmental impact study and make a decision now. It's this way or no way and they want an answer.

Merchants who've been waiting for the project for years aren't happy.

"It was terribly disappointing," said Frank Bouchett of Homeport. "I heard it on the news last night and I was sick. We need that-- all the means to get to downtown that we can get. A major one like that to go completely dead on us was just terribly disappointing."

He and others say competition from neighboring communities will pose problems for the marketplace in the future and they were counting on the Southern Connector to keep downtown Burlington vital for the next 25 years. They have a message for city leaders.

"But they have to make a decision and it's going to be just as hard-- or just as easy to make it today as it will be a year from now so they need to make it today so we can get in line for the project," Bouchett said.

But city officials have said that they still have time and won't make a hasty decision. So for now the Southern Connector continues to hang in limbo, but perhaps not for long.

Bridget Barry Caswell - WCAX News

Related Stories:

End of the Road for Southern Connector?

Burlington's Road to Nowhere

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