Letter Requesting Governor to Do Champlain Parkway the RIGHTway

The Honorable Phil Scott,
Governor of Vermont
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, VT 05609
January 7, 2021

Dear Governor Scott,

I write to you concerning the disproportionate impact the Champlain Parkway will have on Black and Brown and poor people in Burlington. The Champlain Parkway is antithetical to the goals of racial equity and is violative of the work of the Racial Equity Task Force to provide structures of support for racially diverse populations, including a focus on racial disparities in Covid-19 impacts. Because you have expressed your willingness to promote racial equity, we urge you to reconsider the Champlain Parkway.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and the Champlain Parkway

The Racial Justice Foundation d/b/a the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (VRJA) mitigates the direct impact and dismantles the root (systemic) origins of racism across Vermont. VRJA is under the leadership of a Black (descendants of enslaved people) Board of Directors. A community-based, people-of-color Steering Committee provides ongoing advice and direction and much of the activities of VRJA is carried out by a network of advocates and organizations across the state of Vermont.

The mission of VRJA is to secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for Black descendants of enslaved people, while embracing their history and preserving their culture. We are placing a priority on policies that generally affect change across a broad spectrum, including housing, education, employment, health services and economic development and the criminal justice system.

The work of VRJA meets at the intersection of the Maple/King neighborhood, one of the most densely racially diverse in the State. This community will be the most adversely impacted by the Champlain Parkway Project.

The project will result in a 37% increase in traffic in this community while decreasing traffic by 72% through affluent white communities. Consistent with our national racial policy of violence of the past we see here traffic impacts being shifted from white affluent communities to Black and Brown and poor neighborhoods that are once again required to shoulder the burden of progress for whites. We are alarmed at the extent to which the Parkway disproportionately impacts Black and Brown and poor communities, as currently designed. We posit that it is for this reason that it has a disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on Black and Brown and poor communities and does not meet the purpose and goals of the Project. We therefore request that you pursue an alternative pathway to complete the Parkway.

Vermont and its Federal and City of Burlington partners recently conducted and published a Limited Scope Draft Environmental impact Statement (“LSDEIS”) to evaluate for the first time environmental justice issues and whether the Parkway would have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown and low income communities. Unfortunately, the LSDEIS was conducted and released during the Coronavirus Pandemic which continues to severely exacerbate existing racial disparities in housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and the justice system,
particularly in this community. Some of these challenges presented included excessive exposure due to essential worker responsibilities and multi-generational housing and technology and childcare access limitations. Vermont’s Department of Health has determined that because of systemic and structural racism, “BIPOC Vermonters are overrepresented among COVID-19 cases in Vermont, making up 6% of the population but 18% of positive cases. Nearly 1 in every 5 COVID-19 cases in Vermont are among
BIPOC Vermonters.” Vermont Department of Health Data Brief, Covid-19 among Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) (December 2020).

It was unreasonable and an additional undue burden to expect the disproportionately impacted people of this neighborhood to have had the capacity to sufficiently participate in this process, given the heavy burden placed upon them as a result of this global pandemic.

In addition, neither the City, FHWA, nor State provided adequate outreach to invite the community of Maple/King to participate in the process and development of the LSDEIS. This left no opportunity for these impacted communities to have meaningful participation as required by the EO and FHWA guidelines. Finally, the LSDEIS public comment period was not long enough to give a fair voice to all communities impacted by this project. In short these conditions in conjunction with the limited time provided made it dangerous and nearly impossible for the community for which the LSDEIS was being conducted to participate and comment.

The VRJA was fortunate enough to provide comments into this process during what was a very difficult time. As we stated in our comments, on its current trajectory the Champlain Parkway Project, will result in an insensitive act which clearly favors white affluent communities over the Black, Brown and poor communities in Burlington, Vermont. We have learned through history that the true cost of this project will be the
health, safety, economic prosperity and lives of Black, Brown and poor people in the Maple/King neighborhood in Burlington.

We have developed a revised alternative for the Champlain Parkway Project. This alternative successfully reaches the goals of the Champlain Parkway and ensures environmental justice.

The Problem

As currently designed, the Champlain Parkway will intentionally divert commercial traffic from the more affluent, white neighborhoods of the South End of Burlington to dump traffic into the low-income, BIPOC and immigrant neighborhoods closer to the city center. Maple/King will take the hardest hit of this traffic, with a 37% increase of traffic in the area, while the areas from Home Avenue to south of Flynn Avenue receive a 72% decrease of traffic.

Heavier traffic means higher risk to pedestrian safety, and those who are already at a higher risk of traffic related fatalities: poor, Black and Brown individuals, elderly and children–exactly the make up of this community.

The Champlain Parkway will create a wall bisecting the community from north to south. Dividing the community will isolate neighbors and separate many from resources and services. At the moment the Maple/King community experiences a smooth flow of pedestrians and bikes with the car traffic. This is necessary for the various community centers and coffee shops along the road, as it welcomes people, and offers an alternative mode of transport to cars.

In addition to the demonstrated disproportionately high and adverse environmental or health effects the Champlain Project will have on BIPOC and low-income communities, the Champlain Parkway will also result in a release of hazardous materials from the soil and additional noise and air pollution creating an unpleasant and dangerous community to live in. The Champlain Parkway will further eliminate parking, impact wetlands, alter and artificially restrict Engelsby Brook, impact wildlife corridors and
habitats, employ outdated stormwater treatment for discharges into impaired waters including Lake Champlain, and create risks to floodplains.

The Solution

As a solution to the Champlain Parkway, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, proposes the Champlain RIGHTway. Champlain RIGHTway is a multi-modal transportation improvement alternative to the obsolete, environmentally harmful and racially unjust Champlain Parkway proposal.
Champlain RIGHTway consists of elements already studied in the Champlain Parkway NEPA and state permitting process, so development can move forward swiftly, with minimal additional review. These three elements will decrease traffic congestion in both the Maple-King neighborhood and the Home-Flynn neighborhood, without harm and
injustice to the City’s cohesive Black and immigrant community. Further it would avoid the risks posed to pedestrian safety. The RIGHTway will also eliminate failed traffic configuration at Lakeside Avenue, ensuring continued access and growth in this most vibrant City sector;

  1. NORTH: Pine Street from Marble Avenue to Main. The North element of the Champlain RIGHTway consists of the northern segment of what the NEPA process calls Alternative 1, which is now called the Railyard Enterprise Project. This element relieves traffic congestion from the Maple-King neighborhood – which is also a registered historic district. This had been a compelling goal for the project until abandoned by the City in 2009.
  2. CENTRAL: Flynn Avenue to Pine Street at Marble Avenue. The Central element of the Champlain RIGHTway comprises pedestrian and bikeway construction along the project right-of-way to Lakeside, and along Pine Street from Lakeview northwards. This element supports the City’s commitment to green infrastructure, avoids truncating access to residential and vital economic areas with failed traffic conditions at Lakeside, supporting both the environment and innovative growth.
  3. SOUTH: Route 7 at I-189 to Flynn Avenue. The Southern element of the Champlain RIGHTway is effectively the existing C-1 section of the Southern Connector amended with a roundabout rather than dead-ending Pine Street, plus construction to Flynn Avenue, all with a cost saving smaller tarmac profile. This element relieves congestion
    and truck traffic from the Home-Flynn neighborhood and provides easy access to the South End’s growing industrial hub. Champlain RIGHTway resolves major concerns raised by key affected stakeholders, saving years and expense in litigation. VRJA has consulted with the Pine Street Coalition and Fortieth Burlington, LLC, two groups that have raised and litigated environmental, health and safety, and environmental justice concerns about the project. Both have indicated their support for the Champlain RIGHTway.

The Racial Justice Alliance would like to thank the Governor for taking the time to address these concerns further. We request and propose a meeting to discuss our concerns and the action plan to implement the Champlain RIGHTway alternative.

Respectfully,

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

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