By Leah Golding
Construction on the walk-bike bridge known as the East-West Crossing in South Burlington is expected to start at the end of 2024, city leaders say, with a target opening two years later.
The $14.5 million project, which would see a bridge for cyclists and pedestrians stretch over Interstate 89, has been in development for years now and aims to address one of the riskiest tracts of road in the state.
Design work is about 60% finished, according to Ilona Blanchard, the city’s community development director, and a study is underway to determine connection points between the bridge and existing walk and bike lanes and sidewalks.
“We have to do good planning for what happens on both sides of the bridge — does it all match up? Does it all feel comfortable? Is it connected to where people want to get-to go?” said Bryan Davis, senior transportation planner for South Burlington.
Blanchard expects construction of the bridge to zip by and said the project is on track to open in 2026.
“It’s going to add to the community on so many levels,” Blanchard said. “It is a very multi-dimensional project. It really creates a strong East-West travel corridor for people who are walking and biking.”
The proposed route would start near the University of Vermont campus in Burlington and cross I-89 close to the Williston Road bridge over the highway, connecting Burlington with South Burlington.
The project is partially funded by a $9.8 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant — a competitive annual award from the federal Department of Transportation. South Burlington is paying a significant amount for the project, said City Councilor Meaghan Emery.
Blanchard said officials are still looking for gap funding.
The federal grant program gives money specifically to projects that reduce carbon emissions and support underprivileged populations, Emery said.
“I feel very strongly that we have to really invest in making it possible for people to get out of their cars and also for people who don’t have cars to be able to get from point A to point B,” said Emery.
The project would allow walkers and cyclists to bypass eight potentially dangerous highway ramps on a busy section of Williston Road.
In a 2018 report put out by the city and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, over 75% of respondents indicated that they feel “very uncomfortable” walking or biking across the existing Williston Road bridge, which extends over the cloverleaf interchange west of Dorset Street.
“I biked across there once and I said, ‘Never again,’ Emery said. “It’s incredibly dangerous to bike down Williston Road. I did not feel comfortable doing it.”
Data collected by transportation engineers confirms Emery’s concerns. Four intersections and five roadway segments on this section of Williston Road have been listed as high-crash Locations by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, according to the 2018 report, with some exceeding 200 collisions between 2010 and 2014.
Emery hopes the planned structure’s sleek design will also help put South Burlington on the map.
“Oftentimes when South Burlington is noted in the press — like the national press — it shows Church Street in Burlington, so we really need our own symbol,” said Emery.
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