Burlington Vermont and Lake Champlain

Former President Calvin Coolidge once said, “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once”—prudent words spoken like a real Vermonter. Indeed, if Silent Cal were alive today, he’d be bowled over by the momentum and energy behind the changes coming to the biggest city in his home state. Several major infrastructure projects that have been halted for years, some for decades, are now back in play. While it’ll take five to six years before all of these initiatives are complete (President Coolidge did have a point), once they are, residents and visitors can expect to navigate the Queen City with greater ease, safety, and enjoyment.

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The Renovation of Main Street

On Town Meeting Day, March 1, 2022, Burlington passed a $25.9 million bond to fund the transformation of Main Street. From South Union Street down to Battery Street, now an unremarkable, pedestrian-reluctant thoroughfare, will be upgraded into a picturesque gateway to the waterfront. The Main Street reno is just one phase of the Great Streets BTV Initiative outlined in 2015 by the City of Burlington to ensure “a vibrant, walkable and sustainable urban center,” to quote the website. In recent years, the Great Streets project successfully overhauled City Hall Park and St. Paul Street, but with city resources refocused on pandemic issues over the last two years, Main Street has patiently awaited its upgrade.

If you’re curious what the makeover will include, turn onto St. Paul Street, where renovations wrapped in 2018. Main Street will see the same treatments: a change in parking orientation from diagonal to parallel to make way for a spacious pedestrian corridor with wide sidewalks and eight-foot tree belts. In addition, the design incorporates permeable paving for wastewater, eco-friendly rain gardens, space for public art, outdoor restaurant seating, sidewalk kiosks, and more. Cyclists will have protected bike lanes, while pedestrians can park on one of the many shaded benches to take in a famous Champlain sunset.

Main Street will be more functional below ground, too, as the project tackles the 150+-year-old sewer system buried under the corner of South Union and Main. The fabled “Ravine Sewer” has prevented the development of this prominent block for over a century (hence the palatial parking lot), and the city is ready to replace the crumbling relic with a modern sewage system. It will be one year and a half before the Main Street project breaks ground, and another two years until it is completed. Until then, the city will finalize the concept with community input. At a neighborhood meeting leading up to the big March vote, Public Works Engineer Laura Wheelock made a case for the renovation. “It is definitely the heart of the downtown, and it’s important to highlight that Main Street is one of our last links. It really connects a lot of important destinations and features within our city.” The majority of voters agree!
 

 

Ah, the Champlain Parkway, that abandoned stretch of highway off I-189, home to cement barriers, tenacious weeds, and the state’s biggest unofficial skatepark. If you've ever cruised into Burlington from the south, you’ve likely seen the “road that leads to nowhere”— a ghost of a federal project mired by decades of red tape. But it seems the literal and figurative roadblocks are now being cleared for good.

Beginning mid-2022, the city of Burlington, along with the Federal Highway Administration and Vermont Agency of Transportation, will start construction on the new parkway that will provide access from I-189 and U.S. Route 7 to the city center. Thanks to dozens of years of push-pull from the community, the new version will be quite different from the four-lane highway first proposed.

 

The Champlain Parkway will be a 25-mph road with two lanes, encompassing 2.8 miles of roadway between Home Avenue and Lakeside Avenue, connecting Burlington’s South End with downtown. The design is meant to be resident-, pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly with brand-new crosswalks and automated signals to enhance safety and improve stormwater management. In addition, the parkway will pull traffic off of the heavily burdened Pine and St. Paul Streets and extend a series of upgrades to these streets, like the addition of bike lanes, bike racks, and bus bulb-outs.

 

 

So, when will they finally cut the ribbon on the Champlain Parkway? The city says it should be complete by 2026. After almost sixty years of waiting, the finish line is practically in sight.

Additional renderings can be found here - Courtesy of The Champlain Parkway

 

 

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Also on the horizon is the construction of CityPlace, the long-anticipated residential and retail complex at the top of Church Street. Don Sinex first shared his plan in 2014 for the mega 200+- million-dollar project that would replace the Burlington Town Center shopping mall. However, CityPlace has faced legal and financial challenges that have stunted its progress.

As soon as April 2022, residents of Burlington can take a collective breath as construction on the development resumes. In 2017, the old mall was flattened to make way for the shiny, new complex but the work stalled leaving an unsightly hole the size of a city block in the heart of Burlington. The “pit,” as it’s come to be known, has remained untouched since then, and residents are tired of it. With legal issues finally cleared, the city and the community are ready to build out of the pit with the post-2020 vision of CityPlace.

The reimagined design includes 420 residential units (132 more than first proposed), 84 of which will be “affordable,” according to the project’s website. The addition of more rental units (and less retail space) will help address the housing crunch in Burlington that only got worse during the pandemic. In addition, the LEED Gold–certified building will stand nine stories high, instead of the fourteen stories in the original plan, with a lower cost to build of $160 million. Another big win for the community will be the reconnection of St. Paul, Bank, and Cherry Streets, which should invigorate the city streets and improve traffic flow. Despite the shade of doubt and contention surrounding the project, CityPlace has reemerged with a more realistic and viable plan to bring life, housing, and economic growth to the heart of Burlington.

A City on the Move

Burlington International Airport

BTV Terminal Expansion

The recent support and action for these big infrastructure projects are a sign of the times—if 2020 was a red light, 2022 is a green one. Improvements to Burlington are expected to reach way beyond the city’s limits. In the next two years, Burlington International Airport will expand its terminal by consolidating two security checkpoints into one, an enhancement made possible by a 14.5-million-dollar Federal Grant. And as soon as this summer, the new Ethan Allen Express Amtrak service will be up and running, making rail travel between Burlington and New York City down the western spine of the state a reality. This expansion should be a real gamechanger says Toni Clithero of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. “Vermont trains have come back really strong since the pandemic. It would appear as though we’re going to continue to do very well.” More on the Amtrak line will be coming down the pike very soon. No matter their mode of transit, folks will find a more efficient and user-friendly experience of Vermont’s largest urban center in the coming years. On all fronts—by train, plane, automobile, and foot—Burlington is peeling out of the two-year pandemic rut with bold resolve, ready to get things done. And we are here for it.