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.
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!
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
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.