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Champlain Parkway faces challenge from racial justice group

Published: Feb. 20, 2021 at 12:03 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington’s Champlain Parkway has been in the works for 60 years but the connector continues to face setbacks.

The project was first put on hold back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when hazardous materials were found at the Pine Street Barge Canal. City leadership has also changed overtime leading to different visions for the parkway.

Now, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance is proposing changes to address environmental and racial injustice concerns.

“The main issue is we’ve got a major construction project that’s essentially bifurcating what is known to be the Blackest neighborhood in the state,” said Mark Hughes, the director of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.

The organization claims the project, which is being designed to connect Burlington’s South End to Downtown, will increase traffic by 35% in the Maple/King Street area.

The population there is predominantly Black, brown, refugee and low-income.

“So we’re just working to figure out a way where we can avoid that and still reach our desired goal that the parkway was intended for,” Hughes said.

Michele Boomhower of VTrans says after conducting a study over the summer, the agency maintains that the parkway will improve traffic, livability and safety along that corridor by upgrading pedestrian signals, installing ADA-compliant crosswalks, and adding new shared use paths.

“We anticipate that the safety and accessibility conditions that will be created by this project will far outweigh the conditions that exist today and will benefit these communities,” Boomhower said.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, also shut down the Racial Justice Alliance’s claim, saying the recent report doesn’t back it up.

“The experts find that this is an area already impacted significantly by traffic and what the Champlain Parkway does is actually improve elements of that,” he said. “It will stop all of the idling and starting and stopping that happens at a few key intersections there.”

As a solution, the Racial Justice Alliance is proposing, what they’re calling, the Champlain Rightway. Hughes says it’s similar to the city’s Railyard Enterprise Project, which is currently under federal review.

Weinberger and Boomhower both agree the Railyard Enterprise Project would improve conditions in the southern part of the city. The project aims to connect Pine and Battery Streets and alleviate some traffic from going into the Maple and King Street neighborhoods.

As for the Champlain Parkway, more public feedback will be heard before moving forward. Boomhower says VTrans sent some public input to the Federal Highway Administration, which will determine the next steps. That announcement is expected either in the spring or summer.

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