Middlebury board endorses tunnel option

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday formally endorsed the concept of a concrete tunnel to replace the Main Street and Merchants Row railroad underpasses and agreed to retain Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. to take the project through the engineering phase.
The board had previously declared a preference for a concrete tunnel, and formalized that conviction Tuesday evening following a public meeting and presentation that drew more than 50 people. The proposed tunnel project is estimated to cost between $14.6 million and $17.4 million. State and federal authorities have pledged to limit the town’s financial exposure in the project to $500,000, a sum that Middlebury might not have to absorb if the project comes in under budget or if it can find other funding sources.
Officials also confirmed on Tuesday that the tunnel project — slated to begin next spring — would not result in a rise in the slope of Main Street or Merchants Row, and that the tunnel would ensure a train clearance of 21 feet, a height that could ultimately be raised to the preferred federal standard of 23 feet when and if improvements are made to rail infrastructure north and south of the tunnel.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay added the tunnel would be built strong enough to support heavy vehicles, including a potential bus stop. The tunnel would create some extra surface area in the downtown by filling in the now-vacant space between Triangle Park and the town green.

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