Exit 16 business owners concerned by VTrans land takings

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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) VTrans officials are gearing up for their major makeover of the exit 16 interchange in Colchester, but to make this happen the state says they will need to take some land from nearby property owners.

VTrans' so-called diverging diamond project would create a crossover pattern for cars entering Interstate 89 that is meant to ease traffic congestion. To do that, the state agency is looking at acquiring needed property to make it happen.

Three Brothers Pizzeria and Sunny Hollow Deli have been a staple in Colchester for almost 30 years. "We are as Colchester as you can be," said pizzeria co-owner Rami Faour. "It's a stereotypical mom and pop shop -- mom and pop are literally in there."

Faour says that when the state first introduced the idea of the new traffic pattern their property was not affected, but now he says the state plans to take about 40-feet of the entrance to his building. He says it will only make it harder for customers in an already jammed parking lot. "They are basically telling us it's in their right-of-way and they can do what they want," he said.

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Rami Faour: I'm really worried for my business

The projects that I worked on -- none of the business have failed because of a transportation improvement project," said VTrans' Mike LaCroix. He says the diverging diamond will be a first of its kind in the state and will help ease congestion and delays. "What we are doing here is focusing on safety for all the users."

Construction has been blocked because of a lawsuit over the environmental impact of the project a ruling is expected by the end of the summer. "We are moving forward with the project regardless," LaCroix said.

As for impacted landowners, the state says it's paying fair market value for the property it's taking.

But back at the pizzeria, Faour says he and his parents don't feel they are being treated fairly. "They pay their taxes like everyone else and all of a sudden they feel that someone is taking away their land and telling them, 'Hey, you can't do anything about it,'" he said.

The state says that they are expecting construction to begin by next spring and it could take about 2.5 years to complete.

Also tied up in the court battle against VTrans' interchange is nearby Costco's ability to begin selling gasoline. The company's Act 250 permit to open their new gas station is contingent on improvements to Mountainview Drive that are included in the VTrans project.