Champlain Parkway opponents pan EIS report, vow to fight on

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A new federal report that could finally clear the way for the long-planned Champlain Parkway in Burlington is being panned by residents in the South End neighborhood that could be most negatively impacted by the project.

“Why did we spend two and a quarter years and end up being right where we were?” said Tony Redington with the Pine Street Coalition. The former VTrans worker says they’re angry with the findings of the final environmental impact statement on the Champlain Parkway’s impact -- or lack thereof - on minorities in the Maple and King Streets neighborhood.

“This particular part of our city -- in fact our state -- is to be far by far on aggregate the blackest and brownest concentration in terms of numbers,” said Mark Hughes with the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.

Two years after federal highway officials directed the city and state to assess this concern, the EIS finds the parkway will not have a disproportionate effect on these communities.

“There’s nothing those people would get that any other neighborhood in the city would get without having to have all that traffic through it,” said the coalition’s Steve Goodkind.

The 685-page EIS concludes that any negative impacts from traffic are offset by the smoother traffic flow the parkway hopes to provide.

But Hughes says this is simply not true. “There’s an impact on traffic being brought into a neighborhood -- the pollution, traffic safety, pedestrians. We know in a neighborhood whereby you have mostly low-income folks, largely, they are pedestrians,” he said.

Despite the lack of negative impacts outlined in the EIS, the Burlington Department of Public Works notes an overarching construction phasing strategy that they hope would ease the transition on the neighborhood and other neighborhoods in the South End.

“We construct the middle phase first and wait on the interstate connection until the community is comfortable with the other South End projects we are coordinating,” said DPW’s Chapin Spencer. He says those other projects include the Amtrak extension, roundabout, and railyard enterprise construction. Chapin says taken together, the changes will transform transportation in the South End by actually decreasing traffic in the neighborhood. “We are building a more robust system of transportation.”

But Goodkind, a former DPW director himself, says they are more focused on the fact that the parkway will go through the neighborhood at all and with construction set for the window of 2025 to 2027. “They’re still doing the current Maple King project -- which is not a good project. We don’t want them to do that,” he said.

Opponents say the final EIS is not scaring them away. “You’d think that somebody would have the moral consciousness, the intestinal fortitude, and the political will to do right by these folks in the neighborhood. So, we’re gonna continue to push, continue to fight,” Hughes said.

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