Bids to move city’s 160-year-old railroad station delayed

VERGENNES — The long-planned and often delayed move of the roughly 160-year-old former Vergennes railroad station to the Agency of Transportation’s Ferrisburgh commuter lot has once again been postponed, and this time state officials are blaming Tropical Storm Irene.
In a Nov. 14 letter to Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, and Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley,  VTrans Director of Program Development Richard Tetreault said the state’s Building and General Services (BGS) Department was “working towards bidding out” the estimated $1.3 million project “when Tropical Storm Irene struck in August.”
Since then, Tetreault wrote, “both BGS and VTrans have had to spend a lot of resources for storm recovery. Now that recovery efforts are slowing down, I have been in touch with BGS and they have committed to ensuring that the project is put out to bid by the Christmas holiday, if not sooner.”
The work will include moving the deteriorating wood-frame building, which sites hidden from sight off North Main Street in Vergennes, onto a new foundation about a quarter-mile north, and then renovating it into a visitor center. The site lies on railroad tracks just north of the railroad bridge over Route 22A that sits near the Vergennes-Ferrisburgh line.
The project was first discussed at least 11 years ago for a prominent parcel of land near the junction of Routes 7 and 22A, at a main gateway to Vermont from New York State. 
Some of the project’s history of delays related to working out the complicated ownership arrangement of a larger parcel of which the land was part: The commuter lot was carved out of land on which the Vermont Land and Addison County Community trusts, conservation interests, Ferrisburgh, and the  VTrans all had claims. Funding issues also played a role in the delays, but state officials now insist they have the funding in hand.
The Addison County Chamber of Commerce may also play a role in a renovated depot by operating a visitor center there, although chamber president Andy Mayer has said the details have yet to be worked out.
Lanpher, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said more than half the cost, $700,000, is in the 2012 Vermont transportation budget. The remainder comes from an “enhancement” grant, federal funds channeled through the  VTrans, that the  VTrans awarded to Vergennes a number of years ago.
That grant was originally for $400,000, but the  VTrans has increased it over the years to about $656,000, of which about $160,000 has been spent on installation of power and extension of Vergennes-Panton water to the site.
Regardless of this latest delay, Tetreault insists in his letter the depot will be moved.
“Thank you for your continued patience in this regard,” he wrote, “as the State remains committed to seeing this project completed.”
Hawley, in an email, adopted a wait-and-see attitude. He noted how long the project has been on the drawing board compared to another recently completed effort.
“They rebuilt the Champlain Bridge in two years,” Hawley wrote.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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