Imagine building a house and boarding it up? Imagine using tax funds to build a school or other public facility but never opening it? If that happened it might find itself in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! But that’s what Burlington city government did with the Champlain Parkway.
The history of the parkway—successively named the Burlington Belt Line, the Southern Connector, and now the Champlain Parkway—is long and convoluted http://www.champlainparkway.org/project-history/. But present responsibility is crystal clear. In 1998 the City was put in charge of this evolving road design and in November 2005, City Council approved the present plan. Defense of that flawed design has taken up much of the City’s time and resources, most recently defending it in the Environmental Court and against private law suits in 2014. Rational analysis reveals this plan to be a very poor road design–the current head of DPW admitted that if they could start over, this wouldn’t be the highway they’d build today. Yet the current administration continues to squander public agency time and allow immense public resources to lie fallow.
What should be done now? First, open the C1 portion of the roadway linking Shelburne Road to Home Avenue. This segment was completed in the late 1980s, more than thirty years ago. Yes, it has fallen to ruin and needs resurfacing but the site acquisition, roadbed, curbs, and median strip are in place and represent investment allowed to decay without the intended public benefit. Some changes are required, specifically maintaining access from the south end of Pine street to the C1 section and on to South Burlington’s shopping plazas. The Mayor proposes to block off Pine Street at the city limit, contradiction the value of roadway connectivity. With the C1 section open, trucks from the industrial park have easy access to the interstate system and Shelburne Road, avoiding neighborhood streets. Letting C1 rot has inflicted 30 years of unnecessary truck traffic on the Home Avenue, Flynn Avenue neighborhoods.
What of the C2? The reasonable approach is to scrap it and save up to $11 million dollars. Instead repair the neglected Briggs and Bachelor streets for neighborhood use, improve the connection from Flynn to the new City Market location, and maintain connectivity for other neighborhood streets the City’s plan would block them off with a limited access highway.
The public owns roughly 4 acres of land between Home Ave. and Lakeside Ave. where it wants to locate a limited access highway. Working with the Pine Street Coalition and the Coalition for a Livable City, I’ve been trying to do this from the outside. In council I’d fight to kill this idea more effectively. Our publicly-owned prime industrial land, now parking lots, should incubate small business to strengthen our economy, not be paved over. Where Englesby Brook carries debris and pollution to the lake, a linear park could be created preserving our watershed and sheltering a neighborhood recreational path. The City would pipe this flow under a highway without any park plan.
Economists use the term “opportunity cost” to mean a public good that poor planning leaves unrealized. The City’s approach to the Champlain Parkway has squandered our tax money and economic potential while neglecting our environment. In council, I’ll fight for a better South End plan.