Top 10: Vergennes gets new hope for bypass

ON APRIL 4, 2019, we wrote about the possibility that a bypass could be built within city limits.

For decades the question in Vergennes has been to bypass, or not to bypass.

Earlier this year new hope appeared that an alternate route to take trucks out of the city’s downtown could be built in at least some residents’ lifetimes.

In April came word that a preliminary study conducted by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and a traffic-consulting firm concluded that a 32-foot-wide road could be built within city limits, largely through its less populated northern areas. The price tag: around $39 million.

The road would open up those areas in the northern reaches of the city, much of which are now state-owned, for economic development. That’s why that massive state investment could be justified — and thus the concept was worthy of further study. VTrans engineers were even suggesting the truck route could be built within 10 to 20 years.

Such a route would be designed to relieve downtown Vergennes from most of roughly 800 trucks that rumble through the city every day — Route 22A (also known as Main Street) is a designated truck route for western Vermont. Many of those trucks, some of which carry hazardous materials, serve Chittenden County; that quantity of trucks dwarfs the numbers faced by any other Vermont community.

Officials unveiled at an April 2 meeting in the Vergennes Opera house a tentative plan for a new bypass road that would head north from Route 22A near the Panton line, cross Otter Creek on a new bridge, and rejoin Route 22A just north of the Vergennes police station.

Tentative plans called for roundabouts at either end, stop signs at the Panton Road and Comfort Hill intersections, and a requirement that through trucks use the road.

At the same time, officials said, the journey would be a little longer in both distance and time, and passenger vehicles would thus be encouraged to stay on Main Street and drive through downtown. Thus, they said, the city’s businesses would not be deprived of potential customers.

VTrans said strong regional support would be critical to gaining agency and legislative backing for the plan, which city officials dubbed the Vergennes Economic Corridor.

The Vergennes City Council agreed to endorse the plan almost immediately, and other towns in the area that might have been affected by another potential option — upgrading Route 17 between Addison and New Haven Junction and funneling trucks along that road to Route 7 — were relatively quick to line up behind this proposal.

Panton and Ferrisburgh offered conditional support.

In late October Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz told the Vergennes City Council that backing among area towns was unanimous, and all had agreed to write letters of support.

But Fritz acknowledged the Ferrisburgh selectboard’s concern that the ancient mapping of Vergennes that would be used for this plan includes about 400 acres of land that should have remained in Ferrisburgh and other towns; Ferrisburgh hopes that a modern survey could re-establish the proper boundaries. However, former city manager Mel Hawley, although he acknowledges a 400-acre discrepancy, insists the city’s boundaries are well established by law based on the fact they have been currently understood for more than a century-and-a-half. Hawley said at a council meeting in December the city has been taxing those properties since the 1860s, more than enough evidence to establish boundaries and to create accurate tax maps.

Fritz in October also noted Panton officials’ concerns that the route might eventually be moved and that its west end could be built in part in Panton. A bypass proposal in the early 2000s included a western terminus in Panton.

Panton officials, Fritz said, agreed to write a letter of support that included their reservations. But Fritz also noted the first step toward creating a truck route would be a study.

“Panton was asking questions a study would answer,” he said.

Next up will be that study.

And then maybe someday a bypass.

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Addison County Independent

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