Opinion: Study needed to consider RR bypass
Secretary Susan Minter has been quoted as saying that Middlebury is a bottleneck. There is no doubt in my mind that she was referring not to the town of Middlebury or its governing body, but to the physical landscape of the railway as it passes through the town center. And she is correct. The space is neither wide enough nor deep enough to accommodate the growing size of railway freight carriers.
Recognition of this fact is the cause of the current crisis, which many have come to believe is not capable of lasting resolution without relocating the rail route. The crisis has been exacerbated by attempts to redesign the rail passageway to make it somewhat wider and deeper and the realization that this would require a long and disruptive construction process that could do irrevocable harm to the town. Moreover, it has become clear that even if there were no threat of harm to the town to continue on this course would be folly, for the result would not be a long-lasting solution to the railroad’s needs. This is why relocation seems a most reasonable option to consider.
While there may have been in the past extensive studies of bypasses around Middlebury, as was claimed in Secretary Minter’s response to the town, these were concerned mainly with the relocation of Route 7, and in any case they are obsolete and not directly relevant to the current situation. To rely on them is not unlike hiding one’s head in the sand. A new study is needed and the need for it is warranted just to fulfill the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Livability Principle,” which concerns the economic and social well being of a community, in this case, by providing for “a safe, reliable, integrated, and accessible transportation network.”
A bypass would still proceed through the town of Middlebury. One of the aims of a new study must be to consider the economic and social needs of the town and how a new route might better meet them. If, after a thorough study by a competent independent agency, it is concluded that there is no feasible alternative to the current route, then we will know what we have to do. We do not know that now. This new study should be done under the direction of the town selectboard in cooperation with the state Agency of Transportation, which brings me to my final point.
I believe that the plan of local management of a state project is a good idea, innovative and better suited to satisfy local and state needs together. This management plan is still in place, for it is part of the agreement between the town and the state. Therefore, I hope that in its subsequent conversations with the state, the selectboard will endeavor to clarify the plan and take steps to make it more effective. It is a fine illustration of our system of government, or rather, of governments. For our system consists not of one but of many governments, governments embedded within governments from the smallest village or town to federal departments.
However, it is not a hierarchical system where the lesser body merely obeys what comes down from above, but a system of reasonable advice and consent. It involves rational discourse between governing bodies and an attitude of mutual respect. It is just this kind of reasoning together along with a willingness to reset a project that has gone awry on the right course that is needed right now.