Exit 16 design unveiled at CCDC meeting

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The Vermont Agency of Transportation unveiled detailed visualizations of the Interstate 89 Exit 16 overhaul at the annual fall meeting of the Colchester Community Development Corporation last Tuesday. Construction is expected to begin in 2019. (Courtesy)

Legislators, town board members, business owners and more gathered in the Blakely Rd. offices last Tuesday morning for the Colchester Community Development Corporation’s annual fall meeting.

Among presentations on the Malletts Bay scoping study and Bayside Park master plan, attendees were among the first to see a series of detailed visualizations depicting the conceptual design of the long-awaited Exit 16 overhaul.

“This is my pride and joy, if you will,” Vermont Agency of Transportation traffic design project manager Michael
LaCroix told the crowd.

The VTrans plan uses a “diverging diamond interchange,” a figure-eight setup that sends left-turning traffic to the left, or opposite, side of the road and allows drivers to access Interstate 89 without facing oncoming traffic.

The mile-long project starts at the Winooski town line and extends through the Sunderland Woods intersection and will also widen roads, add turning lanes and implement new bike and pedestrian paths.

On Monday, LaCroix said the unconventional proposal had checked almost all of the required permitting boxes and was still scheduled to begin construction in 2019 and 2020.

At a selectboard meeting in April, LaCroix said a plethora of challenges first prompted the design change, including traffic congestion, lacking pedestrian and cyclist paths and high crash numbers.

On Monday, he said recently released data showed the segment of roadway including Exit 16 had the third highest number of injurious crashes in the state and the eighth in total number of crashes.

“We were averaging one crash every couple of weeks out there, which is quite a bit for Vermont,” LaCroix said.

The new visualizations also feature significant landscaping, a town-funded addition approved by the selectboard earlier this year to improve the project’s visual appeal.

However, some property owners along the project line still have yet to sign a right-of-way permit, LaCroix said, a document that allows the state to acquire land as needed for transportation projects.

Both at the meeting and in a subsequent email, LaCroix said he didn’t know the list of property owners who had not signed on, noting the process was still ongoing.

“For those that have indicated to us that they would like to cease negotiating with the state, that process remains open until the courts grant us the ability to condemn on those properties,” LaCroix wrote.

One CCDC meeting attendee said he finally understood the design concept after he traveled through a diverging diamond across the country. Indeed, less than 100 diverging diamond interchanges exist around the U.S. LaCroix said the installation closest to Colchester is in Rochester, N.Y.

Another resident asked how the plan worked with the traffic mitigation required in the permit that approves nearby Costco’s warehouse expansion and gas pump installation.

In 2016, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Costco could proceed with its expansion after specific improvements were made to the surrounding roadways, ending a legal saga with Maplefields gas station mogul Skip Vallee.

The improvements include a second dedicated left-hand turn lane from Lower Mountain View Drive onto southbound Route 7, a second dedicated right-hand turn lane from Lower Mountain View Drive onto northbound Route 7 and another travel lane for through traffic and traffic turning right onto Route 7 from Lower Mountain View Drive.

Those additions are included in the VTrans project, LaCroix confirmed last week. He said he hadn’t heard whether Costco planned to complete the construction itself on an earlier timeline.

Visit colchestersun.com for more Exit 16 project visualizations.