Editorial: Lessons to learn from Cross St. Bridge’s success, controversy

At the one-year anniversary of the opening of Middlebury’s Cross Street Bridge, it’s appropriate to reflect on its success — and on the controversy that preceded it.
The success comes from all corners of the community: from community leaders to town officials, business owners to commuters. Everyone not only thinks it has added an aesthetic beauty to the town (with its stately architecture, as well as opening up an even more spectacular view of the downtown, but the added convenience and safety features are crucial to the town’s viability.
It’s important, also, to recall that the bridge was the culmination of nearly 50-plus years of community angst. Ever since the Three-Mile Bridge burned down in August of 1952, the community had dithered over where to build a replacement and how it would be paid for. Surveys were done; town polls were taken and at each juncture the process stalled and was eventually abandoned.
It’s important to ponder why.
The most plausible explanation was disagreement about the best location for the bridge. Opponents of the Cross Street location doubted the numbers provided by transportation studies. Laymen were certain they had better ideas and a more accurate intuition as to outcome, going so far as to suggest it would be certain disaster if the bridge were to be built there, or there, or there… depending on one’s outlook.
Hopefully, the lesson learned is to trust well-informed study. That doesn’t mean not to challenge assumptions, but it does mean that progress can best be made through an active community dialogue that dissects the issues, settles on a plausible majority consensus, and then gets on with it.  Not everyone will be happy, but that’s OK.
It’s more important that a process be established that allows the community to identify and accomplish crucial elements to the town’s success with reasonable speed and prudence.
What the Cross Street Bridge has demonstrated is that expert study combined with active citizen engagement yields exciting accomplishments that move the town forward — and that such progress produces a sense of success that snowballs into all other aspects of community life. The opposite is also true.
Looking ahead, Middlebury faces other projects that could benefit from the town’s most recent matter-of-fact approach with the Cross Street Bridge, including:
• whether to approve plans for improved fire stations, and what to do about its municipal building;
• reconstruction of its railway underpasses on Main and Merchants streets, which holds the possibilities of re-imaging that vital pathway through the downtown;
• boosting the town’s economic development potential;
• hosting an expanded CCV building or campus;
• development of a multi-purpose building at the northwestern base of the Cross Street Bridge;
• improvements to the northern shore of the Otter Creek below the falls as well as the possibility of a hydro-electric generator at the base of Middlebury Falls.
Some of these issues require substantial taxpayer dollars (the fire stations and municipal building), while others require fewer dollars but active town leadership that will solicit partners to help achieve the end goal. In each case, town residents will need to assess the cost versus the community benefit, and then make a straightforward decision as to the common good.
Doing that thoroughly, but without undue delay, is the sign of efficient government that has the respect of its citizens. If that is the lesson learned from this latest Cross Street Bridge effort, count it as another of that project’s many blessings.
Angelo S. Lynn

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