VTrans planning for Middlebury roundabout

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Agency of Transportation has officially added a proposed Route 7/Exchange Street roundabout to its list of priority projects and is now determining the price tag of such an undertaking and how it would be paid for.
The Middlebury selectboard has been lobbying VTrans since 2004 to install a roundabout at that intersection north of the village.
Middlebury’s industrial park is located off Exchange Street, which consequently attracts large numbers of heavy trucks. Those trucks, and passenger vehicles, face a daily challenge in trying to turn onto Route 7, which has limited sight visibility at that location with traffic zipping along at a better-than 50 miles-per-hour clip.
With little movement on the proposed roundabout during the past 11 years, a group of Middlebury officials and Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee conferenced with VTrans Secretary Sue Minter on the subject on Jan. 16. They were pleased to learn that an Exchange Street/Route 7 roundabout has been added to the agency’s “State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).” That means the project will advance to planning and funding status, though there is still no timetable for the roundabout’s completion.
“They have not guaranteed a timeline yet,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman Dean George. “But this gives it a much higher priority than it had before.”
Lougee explained that the STIP is the state’s capital improvement plan, which includes projects VTrans considers important enough and defined enough to move forward on. It should be noted that the Exchange Street/Route 7 roundabout falls in the “candidate” category of the STIP, meaning that it does not yet have a funding guarantee. But it is also being considered as a project that would increase the safety and operation of a state road, which means that it will get priority over other proposals that aren’t primarily about safety (such as paving), Lougee noted. The Middlebury roundabout is currently number eight on a lengthy VTrans safety and operations list, according to Lougee.
“Safety and operations projects tend to move faster than some of the other ones,” Lougee said.
State officials have yet to place a cost estimate on the roundabout project, though they concede it will probably be well into the six figures. The price tag will include site acquisition costs of property within the project footprint. Lougee and George explained that the town will likely have to cover the portion of the project associated with increasing the capacity of the intersection, while the state would be responsible for safety elements. With that in mind, Middlebury officials are hoping the bulk of the project relates to safety upgrades.
New businesses that settle off Exchange Street will be asked to participate in the local share of the roundabout.
Prior to last year, the developer of a project deemed to have triggered the need for capacity-related intersection upgrades in a particular area was made financially responsible for such a project. But the Legislature last year changed that “last one in” provision of Act 250 in a manner that allows VTrans to collect money from new project developers before the intersection becomes overwhelmed, according to Lougee. Longstanding business within the project area are grandfathered and therefore exempt from such an impact fee, Lougee said.
“The capacity of the intersection of Route 7 and Exchange Street is generally pretty good right now,” Lougee said.
He noted that Delineation Corp. (aka, Middlebury College), as a result of its Act 250 permit, was asked to install a left-turn lane on Route 7 at the Exchange Street intersection when it helped establish the town’s industrial park many years ago. The needs of that intersection have now changed, Lougee said.
“We would much rather see a roundabout there for many different reasons, primarily safety,” Lougee said. “It will have better capacity and we think it will be safer. It will slow the traffic; the crashes that we see at that intersection tend to be two-car crashes.”
Middlebury town officials at their meeting with Minter also discussed the impending replacement of Middlebury’s two downtown railroad overpasses. The project — which calls for the Main Street and Merchants Row overpasses to be replaced with a tunnel — had been slated to start this spring and cost around $18 million. But the mostly federally funded project has been postponed for a year in light of new estimates showing a potential price tag of $36 million to $50 million.
George said Minter provided assurances that state and federal transportation officials will find the resources to complete Middlebury’s downtown rail projects.
“It was made very clear that (VTrans) understands the urgency of getting this done,” George said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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