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This Place in History: Highway to Nowhere

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt.

At 'This Place in History', we're in South Burlington with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

"I think many of us in Chittenden County have driven past this intersection. Right behind us is Route 7 and beyond that is I-189, the spur that comes off of I-89. But there is this mysterious cloverleaf that comes off of Shelburne Road and just ends in barriers. So what is it?" began Perkins.

"So we have to go way back and talk about highways and the Interstate Highway Act. Back in the 1950s President Eisenhower proposed that we have an interstate highway system, akin to what he saw in Germany right during and after World War II to move military quickly from one side of the country to the other. Part of that act was to create interstates throughout Vermont."

"I actually brought the plans for Interstate 89 with me so we can take a look at that, that shows how it would flow through Burlington. Even back then, so these plans are from 1957, they showed what's now 189 with a cloverleaf at Shelburne Road, that would then lead to another road right through Burlington," continued Perkins.

"I-189 was built, and so by the mid 60s they said how are we going to extend this road even further into Burlington. So then we come up to this great document called the Greater Burlington Urban Highway Plan from 1965."

"I think most people would see this map and they would say what is going on here because most of this was not built. But you can see vestiges of it today. In green, the two lane highway at the very bottom, you can see where 189 loops into it right where we're standing and you can see it runs up Pine Street, all the way across the waterfront, so there would be no Waterfront Park."

"It would be an elevated highway. It would head right up through downtown Burlington, cross over into the Old North End, connect into what's now Route 127, all the way back up into Colchester, where it would connect back into Interstate 89. This would have provided an easy way in and out of the city," explained Perkins.

"The community said we're not so sure we want an elevated highway running right through the middle of downtown Burlington. The other piece was it just got too expensive and they couldn't afford to that do that system. So they pursued what they call the Southern Connector. The early one was called the Belt Line, and later the Champlain Parkway, and we're still talking about that today. How do we connect this spot right here with downtown Burlington? That is an ongoing conversation," 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 markers, click here.


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