Community Liaison Corner

What’s Next?

February 9, 2024

If you were one of the 900 Addison County residents who completed the PEL Study public survey this past September or one of the 250 who attended the December and January land use workshops, you may be wondering:  What’s next?

You may have shared a lot of good local information with the PEL Study team and now are thinking:  Is anyone taking my input into account?

The answer to that second question is a solid Yes.  To answer the first question, we need to understand what happens in this next phase of the PEL Study.

Where We Are in the PEL Process

Since getting underway in 2021, the PEL Study team has been methodically working through the PEL process laid out by the Federal Highway Administration, adapting it for the specific needs of this transportation study.

Working through that process, the PEL Study team first created a Purpose and Need Statement to guide its work and completed background research on existing conditions.  Against those criteria, the team began to identify and screen potential alternatives for reducing the impact of heavy truck traffic on downtown Vergennes, including directing trucks to other routes.

You’re probably familiar with the alternative routes that are still on the drawing board today:  the Blue and Pink routes to the west of Vergennes, the Green Route south of Vergennes, the Orange Route along MacDonough Drive and Comfort Hill in Vergennes, and the Purple Route along VT 17.

Next Up: In-Depth Evaluation of Each Route

Now, two years into the PEL Study, we’ve arrived at a crossroads.

During the next few months, the PEL Study team will evaluate and compare those five alternative routes based on transportation, community, environment, and other factors.  Then the team will recommend which route(s)—if any—should be advanced for further study by the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Traffic flow and traffic safety are the key design factors by which the alternative routes are to be evaluated.  But during this phase, the PEL Study team will delve deeply into the many benefits and impacts of each of the five routes being studied.

What are the impacts of each route, for example, on environmental resources like wetlands, floodplains, and wildlife habitat abutting Otter Creek?  On historic and archaeological resources like those along MacDonough Drive in Vergennes?

What are the physical impacts of each route on the landscape, on conserved farmland, on local neighborhoods?  How many businesses and/or individual homes would be displaced or disrupted by each route?

How do we compare a reduction of traffic noise on Main Street Vergennes with an increase in traffic volume on one of the alternative routes?

Environmental justice is an important consideration.  To what extent would each of the alternative routes unduly impact low-income residents?

And then cost.  What might each route, given that we are still at the conceptual stage, cost to construct?  What long-term economic benefits might each of the five routes bring to local communities?

Importantly, what is the level of community support for each of the routes?

In essence, then, how would each route meet the Purpose and Need Statement that defines the problem to be solved?

The Importance of Your Involvement

To return to the second question above, all of the localized information gathered during the public survey, land use workshops, and many other engagement activities since 2021 is critical to the team’s evaluation of the alternative routes.

The scenarios developed during our five land use workshops are key, highlighting as they did areas you and other locals might want to see set aside for bike and pedestrian paths, greenspace, residential housing, or light commercial development, for example.

The PEL team’s evaluation, like the public survey and the land use workshops, will be conducted by highway engineers and planners at consultants WSP and Dubois & King, all under the direction of the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.

The Final Recommendation

Out of this evaluation phase later this year will come a recommendation from the PEL Study team.  Balancing impacts with benefits, the team’s goal is to recommend one or more routes to advance for further study by the Agency of Transportation.  The team may also conclude that none of these routes meets the purpose and need and recommend that no route be built.  We’ll get into that possibility in a future blog post.

Those recommendations will be presented to the PEL Study’s Technical Committee and Policy Committee members for a vote.  In our next blog post, we’ll look at the makeup and charge for each of these two committees that represent local stakeholders.

You may be looking for a date by which the evaluation will wrap up and a recommendation made but, given the complexity of what I’ve described above, we’re not quite there yet on forecasting a timeline.

In the meantime though, as always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions or concerns at jgish@vhb.com.

Jim Gish

PEL Study Community Liaison