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Champlain Parkway First Step In Mayor's Vision For Burlington's South End

Taylor Dobbs

BURLINGTON - Mayor Miro Weinberger has plans for the city’s South End, and the Champlain Parkway is just the beginning.

That project, which looks more likely after Vermont Railway dropped a lawsuit this week, is set to extend Interstate 189 in a sweeping loop from its current endpoint at Shelburne Road west and north toward Pine Street. The plan includes funding to make Pine Street more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Click the colored lines or area on this interactive map to learn more about the proposed Champlain Parkway as well as the land Mayor Miro Weinberger hopes to redevelop.

The hope, Weinberger said, is to change Pine Street from "sort of a suburban arterial that moves a lot of cars to something that is more of a neighborhood street."

The mayor’s plans for Pine Street don’t stop at the sidewalks, though. Weinberger said he hopes the Champlain Parkway is just the first step toward revitalizing the area between Pine Street and Lake Champlain on the stretch from Maple Street south to Flynn Avenue.

Currently, much of that space is consumed by a defunct barge canal between the Burlington Electric building and the Vermont Rail depot.

"If you look at this sort of whole area of the city, it's probably the most sort of unformed part of the city,” Weinberger said. “You just have a lot of big surface parking lots, you have this area of the barge canal here which … has been untouched for decades now. You have these low, single-story warehouse-type buildings along the west side of Pine Street.”

Plan BTV, the city’s comprehensive development plan for downtown Burlington and the waterfront, is just getting underway. Weinberger is already looking to expand that planning philosophy south to the “underutilized, post-industrial area” along Pine Street.

“It’s a long-term project, but it’s starting to happen,” Weinberger said. “The organic growth we’re getting there already is showing it’s happening. I think we should bring some planning and forethought to this area.”

The plans are still in their early stages, and they largely depend on the construction of the Champlain Parkway. Even the parkway – planned decades ago and never finished – is not yet a sure thing. The city’s Act 250 permit for $25 million project was the subject of the lawsuit dropped by Vermont Railway earlier this week, but the same permit was appealed by three other parties. One of those appeals, Weinberger said, could cause the whole project to be canceled.

Allan Hunt, a landowner and resident who lives near the intersection of Pine Street and Maple Street, says the project will bring too much traffic through an already busy neighborhood.

"This particular route will add, they're projecting at least 2,000 additional vehicles a day,” Hunt said.

With rush hour traffic on Pine Street already a problem for many who live or work in Burlington, Hunt says the parkway is a step in the wrong direction for the residential area. After filing the appeal, he said, some community organizations and neighbors with similar concerns came out in support of the action.

Hunt knows if his wins his appeal it could kill the project all together, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

"We're doing our best, I think the city's trying their best,” he said. “We have obviously slightly different objectives and goals. I think we in general want to end up with the same thing.”

Weinberger’s administration is working hard to work with Hunt to figure out a resolution for the appeal before it goes to court. Hunt says a separate proposed project to build roads through the Vermont Railways depot and relieve some of the traffic on Pine and Maple “would have a significant positive impact on the neighborhood if and when it's built."

If the issues are settled, officials say construction on the parkway would take about two years.

In any case, Hunt said, "I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll find a way to get this thing settled and it'll be one less thing for people to have to worry about or be concerned about."

Updated at 5:51 p.m. on 9/13/2013 to reflect the estimated cost and construction time of the proposed parkway.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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