This Place in History: Circumferential Highway

Vermont Historical Society


At ‘This Place in History‘ we’re in Essex, Vt. on the side of VT Route 289 with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re standing on the side of an unfinished highway. I think we have a tradition of doing unfinished highways every couple of years, so I thought I’d talk about some more recent history and this road, in particular,” began Perkins.

“People really, I think, enjoy the road. It gets you through very quickly from Route 117 in Essex to to Route 2A and on up into Colchester. But, it was part of a larger plan. It really goes back late 1950s when they were envisioning what the interstate system would look like in Vermont, where the exits were going to be and how people moved around. And so they finished I-89 and they ran into this issue of how do we move people in and out of the city of Burlington.”

“In previous spots, we’ve talked about the Southern Connector, or Champlain Parkway, or Beltline even they called it at one point. This Circumferential Highway was meant to link into all of that and connect I-89 in Williston all the way up and around to Route 127 in Colchester. And, of course, if the whole highway system was done, that would be a complete circle around Burlington,” explained Perkins.

“One of the big drivers for this highway was IBM coming to Vermont. IBM was one of the biggest employers in the state. Thousands of people were driving to this large plant that was almost the size of a town itself. That really drove the need for having a highway like this because all of the little roads were becoming overwhelmed with traffic.”

“We’ve created lots of plans and then things changed over time. It takes a long time to build a highway. For this highway in particular, the funding model changed a couple times. So, originally it was federally funded. In 1973, it was designed. And, it was going to be federally funded. It was I-289.”

“It ended up costing a bit more. In the mid 1980s, the Vermont state legislature put money into the project and became VT-289,” said Perkins.

“They ended up breaking it into segments, giving them letters A through J. The first chunk completed was this piece in Essex. In 1993, this opened. There were full plans for the Williston section to get completed. And then, the last loop was going to be done up through Colchester.”

“But, they ran into permitting issues, environmental issues and because the highway had been delayed for so long, all of these developments started growing up in the suburbs of Burlington.”

“All of these things slowed the highway down. Then in 2011, Governor Shumlin said that we’re going to call the project as designed; done.”

“We’re on what feels like a pull-off right now, but it was originally designed as an exit. There was going to be an exit here that led over to Sand Hill Road. The highway was originally supposed to be divided here; you can see the hillside where they’ve sculpted it to take that roadway. Even off to the side, you can see the cut-through on the hill where the ramp was going to go over to Sand Hill Road to get you off of this highway,” demonstrated Perkins.

“And you can see this and other places along the route of where the highway was going to go, if you look at a map or a satellite. You can even see where the houses and roads aren’t is where this highway was meant to go,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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