The Green Mountain Parkway and Vermont’s Future

I heard a ridiculous commentary on the radio on the drive in this morning. As I cut through the hills between Montpelier and Northfield on Route 12, I listened to a comparison between the Green Mountain Parkway and a road that has been proposed in Tanzania, which would cut across the Serengeti.

In 1931, a highway was proposed the length of the state, similarly to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, and had the backing from various federal and state officials, while it was opposed by groups such as the Green Mountain Club. With a couple years of intense debate, the state voted in 1935, with the proposal failing in the House of Representatives, and going down again on town meeting date in 1936. Since then, the state has remained with two segments of highway: I-89, which cuts across West Lebanon and winds its way up towards Canada, travelling through Montpelier and Burlington on the way, while I-91 comes up from Massachusetts and shoots to the north. The Green Mountain parkway would have begun at the bottom of the state at Massachusetts and worked its way up through the middle of the state, connecting the western part of Vermont a bit more efficiently to New York and its namesake city.

I for one, would like to imagine what the state might have been like had the road been built. The 260 mile highway would have likely brought a number of needed jobs to the state during the Great Depression, and would have provided a massive infrastructure base for the future of the state. As the road never progressed beyond the planning state, we’ll never know for sure, but after seeing the state have its own issues over the last couple of years, I would have imagined that such a project would have been heplful in the present day. The major population center, Burlington, is serviced by a small international airport (it goes to Canada), but is otherwise difficult to reach because of the lack of direct flights beyond some of the hubs, while reaching Burlington from somewhere like New York City by car means that someone has to drive up through Connecticut, Massachusetts and across the state in order to reach or, or up through New York and over some of the slower state highways. The short version is, it’s not a quick trip.

Currently, the state has a difficult time retaining businesses. Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s has remained in the state, but with most of its operations outsourced to other states or countries where regulations are a bit more lax. Burton Snowboards has relocated to Switzerland, and years ago, Mad River Canoe relocated away from its namesake Mad River Valley years ago. IBM has downsized some positions, and there have been rumblings that the company might leave at some point in the future, while a major startup, Dealer.com might put its expanding workforce in another state. It’s difficult to grow a business here in the state, because of the location (NeW England is somewhat remote anyway), climate and terrain (Cold and mountainous) and its regulatory nature (fairly strict, geared towards preserving the state’s image – Not a bad thing). One less avenue for transit is just one more thing against the state’s own economy growing.

The reason, Dennis Delaney notes, is that the state would have destroyed a key part of the state’s environment and natural beauty in order to make life easier for people. It’s an easy enough reason to understand, and something that I support. I love how rural the state is, that its resisted the growth and population that New Hampshire (a state of similar proportions) boasts and that I can look up into the sky to see the stars without an incredible amount of light pollution. That being said, all of those benefits are able to be enjoyed because I’m employed and can enjoy Vermont for what it is, as well as the major source of income that comes from tourist dollars to see the state as it is.

What really gets me annoyed is Delaney’s assertion that while infrastructure in Africa would likely help poverty (my understanding is that roads are bad, and much needed) in the continent, this major road project is something that should be shot down because it will harm the beauty of Africa, and the Serengeti. I can understand that to a point, but I would have to ask: how much does beauty compare to the human cost of poverty in the continent, and does the cost of keeping the African wilderness absolutely and completely pristine balance that? I’m not suggesting that the entire region be bulldozed and paved over, nor do I think that Western values will solve all of the problems overseas as a concerned liberal. Natural surroundings are important, should be preserved and protected, intensely. But at the same time, I believe that if there is something that can be done that will positively benefit the lives of people who have very little, it should be done, but it should be done intelligently. Create a roadway that will minimize the impact on the environment, put together protections for the herds that will travel across the road, create an engineering and technical marvel that will leave the road suspended tens of feet in the air.

I have heard the same arguments recently in the state (and out of state) when it comes to wind power farms that could reduce, in part, our dependence on energy technologies that are truly destructive, such as the failing Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant or coal plants that leaves us with acid rain in the hills. People place the intrinsic beauty of their surroundings over projects that are likely essential to the growth of the state and that support the well-being of its citizens. The alternative could very well be something that would be far worse to see: a coal fired plant in Vermont? The expanding slums of a city? How about a state that is forced into further economic problems because it cannot retain a profitable base that would ultimately help the state and its people?

I, for one, do care about the environment of the state, as contrary as it seems to what I just said. However, one needs to be fairly realistic as how we interact with our surroundings, and realize in just what state we can enjoy Vermont’s natural beauty. I for one don’t believe that the state has to be abandoned and undeveloped to retain the mountains and forests of the state. We just need to be mindful of how everything fits together. Personally, I would have been interested to see a Green Mountain Parkway weaving its way up through the mountains: I-89 is already a gorgeous drive, and that doesn’t really take away from the beauty of the state as a whole. It certainly allows me access to the beauty of the state.

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4 thoughts on “The Green Mountain Parkway and Vermont’s Future

  1. “You can’t get there from here,” as they say.

    I’ve often wondered what it would be like if traveling down the western side of Vermont didn’t always require a leisurely saunter down Route 7 through the many villages and towns it rolls through.

    I probably would have visited more in Bennington than the bus depot, for one.

    • I agree. I’ve made that drive a number of times going to New York and Pennsylvania, and it’s a nice, slow drive. I wonder what the economic impact would have been, vs. the environmental.

      • One thing I’ve noticed is that in both Vermont and western NH (I drove across both frequently in the 6.5 years I was at UNH while my parents were in upstate New York), is that a common objection towns raised to high-throughput roads or bypasses around the towns was that it actually *decreased* tourism. By forcing traffic to go through the middle of town and stop at every traffic light at every horse-crossing, it forces travelers to see the quaint restaurant on this side of the road, or notice the sale at the boutique on the corner of that intersection. Rerouting traffic around the town with a bypass or controlled access highway increased the ease of getting somewhere, and thus increased traffic passing through, but meant that people would just keep going, bent on getting to their ultimate destination unless they have to stop to get gas or hit the McDonald’s.

      • That was a bit thing of contention in Vermont’s history. A lot of people were incredibly excited for the opening of the interstate, even holding parades, before they realized that there was nobody stopping through the towns. It certainly did have an impact, must as the introduction of the railroad allowed a number of towns to really prosper, while others just vanished.

        Still, the introduction of a fast route into the state means that there’s still not people coming up the other routes, or not as much, because they’re often going up to other places, like Burlington or Montreal, and they’ll just avoid the other places – Places like West Leb have flourished because they’re right at the intersection (and don’t have sales tax).

        I’m not sure that I see tourism as something that you want to depend upon as heavily as we do. People come up to see the leaves and to go skiing, but how does that income compare to something like IBM, which brings in a lot of money and keeps a ton of people employed? You mentioned recently that a test of a software for your group went into the tens of thousands of dollars: I’d see a good, viable industry such as that in the state as being far more beneficial.

        The point here is that the difficult access for organizations means that they grow, but they then leave for better pastures. I don’t know that one additional roadway would make a huge difference, but with everything that they’re going up against, it’s likely that it couldn’t hurt.

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