Town to make play for circ land

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The Vermont Agency of Transportation announced it wants to keep the 12 miles of unused corridor preserved in the 1980s for a beltway highway that today, has an uncertain future.

So says VTrans’ management plan for the rights-of-way acquired for the so-called Circumferential Highway, of which only one of three legs has been built, Route 289 through Essex.

The remaining two legs make up 12 miles of unused right-of-way through Williston and Colchester, as well as five parcels acquired to mitigate the effects of construction.

The plan makes clear the agency has not given up on the completion of the highway, although Gov. Peter Shumlin declared the idea dead in 2011 after years of litigation with environmentalists opposed to the project.

“[The state] holds ultimate authority over the corridor,” the plan states. “Development of a state highway remains the originally intended purpose for the corridor. The original state highway use of the corridor may take precedence over any [other] use.”

But VTrans is allowing for the possibility of alternative uses like solar energy farms, recreation paths, trails and roads via agreements with other governmental entities. Agreements with non-profits or businesses are also possible, as exemplified by a Vermont Gas lease of a portion of the Essex and Williston corridor for the utility company’s controversial southern expansion.

The Town of Colchester will submit a letter of intent to use the portion of the right-of-way that roughly parallels West Lakeshore Drive, Prim Road and Heineberg Drive, public works director Bryan Osborne said Monday.

The corridor would provide an alternate route connecting Malletts Bay neighborhoods on the west side of town with Main Street and the east side of town.

“It’s always been a planning goal of the town to have some alternative route connecting the two halves of Colchester aside from a singular road and a singular intersection,” Osborne said, referring to Lakeshore Drive and its intersection at Bayside Park with Blakely Road.

The town could at first employ the corridor as an emergency cut-through, Osborne said, and eventually develop a recreation path and/or a local road. The plan gives preference to transportation uses, though other uses may be approved.

VTrans would consider selling circ property as a last resort, according to the plan. Any appeal to buy the land would require Federal Highway Administration approval, as federal funds were used to acquire the property.

According to the state’s right-of-way manual, state and local governments would have first crack at buying circ land.

If no government entity is interested, the property owner from which the land was originally acquired would have the right of first refusal to buy back the land.

Land would be priced at the price the state paid plus 6 percent interest, the manual states. If the original property owner is not interested, the sale would be opened to the public by way of a sealed bidding process.

VTrans officials plan to meet with municipal leaders in the three towns that host the circ right-of-way to gauge interest in its use.