Long-Awaited U.S. 7 Delayed Again

Mon August 18, 2003 - Northeast Edition

BURLINGTON, VT (AP) The long-delayed reconstruction of U.S. 7 has been delayed again, this time by a court injunction.

Paragon Construction was set to start work first thing the morning of Aug. 18 installing culverts, water pipes and other features that will become part of the $32 million project.

Signs erected along U.S. 7 warned motorists that the construction would start.

However, project opponents won an injunction in U.S. District Court in Burlington that has halted the project, said attorney Liam Murphy, who is representing businesses fighting the reconstruction.

The injunction is based on a stormwater permit appeal that construction opponents filed earlier this year.

U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions agreed to the injunction, at least until a hearing scheduled for Aug. 18, Murphy said.

Vermont Transportation Secretary Patricia McDonald said her agency would ask the court to postpone the hearing until Aug. 28 to give attorneys time to review the appeal.

Construction on U.S. 7 will not start at least until then, McDonald said.

Murphy said he also has filed papers in Chittenden Superior Court and with the Vermont Water Resources Board to stop the construction until appeals are sorted out.

McDonald and Project Manager Richard Ranaldo said they had not seen the court papers Friday and could not comment on them directly. Ranaldo denounced the delay.

"It’s unfortunate that this group continues to try to hold the traveling public hostage,’ Ranaldo said.

The project would cover 3.1 mi. (5 km) along U.S. 7 between South Burlington and Shelburne. The work has been planned since the early 1980s, but design changes, appeals by opponents and other events delayed the reconstruction.

The rebuilt road would have four lanes, two in each direction. A grassy median would divide north and southbound lanes. It would have cuts to let motorists make left-hand turns.

Some business owners along the project’s route object to the median, saying it would limit access to their shops and offices.