Opinion: Middlebury bridges should be replaced without delay
The day was Oct. 16, 2009, and I was headed in to Middlebury from Port Henry, N.Y., on one of my two days off from working in Middlebury to run some errands with my now oldest daughter. As I started to cross the Champlain Bridge in Crown Point a construction worker, whom I thought was involved with the work that had been happening through the summer, tried flagging me down but was too late.
A couple hours later when we were returning home and I was about to turn onto 22A in Bridport, I heard on VPR that the bridge was closed. I thought it must be a joke, but the report was confirmed when I turned the corner and saw a big flashing construction sign saying the same thing. That night started 4 months of the worst commute my wife or myself have ever had (and we were not alone). Next came 20 more months of what could be very aggravating delays to our commutes.
While I had been concerned about the condition of the bridge two years earlier when we moved to Port Henry, I did not fully realize the dire condition and negligence that this bridge had experienced until after the closure and demolition. The original Champlain Bridge opened in August 1929 and was expected to last approximately 70 years. The bridge was open just over 80 years. Regular inspections and work were being done, but mainly on a reactionary basis. Having known that the original structure was to last 70 years and how long the planning process for such projects would take, the federal, New York, and Vermont governments should have started planning its replacement several years prior to the life expectancy, not 10 years after.
Now lets rewind and fast-forward to the current discussion of replacing two rail bridges in Middlebury. My family moved to Middlebury in the summer of 1994. Within a couple of years I started hearing and reading about the need to replace the bridges spanning the railroad tracks at Main Street and Merchants Row. This talk has surfaced occasionally over the last two decades and become much more prominent in the last four years. Over all that time, the (scarily thin) bridges have been steadily deteriorating. The town made its voice heard as to what it wants to see replacing the current bridges. Great!
Then we see three or four delays in start of construction over the span of two years, before the town even gets decent details as to the actual size and scope of the project. I am just as angry as anyone in town over that deception. I think it’s good that all parties have stepped back to re-evaluate the situation. However, given my previous experience, I want to urge the municipal, state, and federal parties involved to not drag their feet any further in this process.
It’s good to fight for the survival of our downtown while working to improve it. Please don’t let the situation get worse before it gets better. I would not be surprised if these two vital downtown structures days are more numbered than we expect. I agree with another recent comment that we should probably have an emergency plan in place before something catastrophic happens.
On a side note, I too think we should maybe reconsider slightly raising the roads if it will help simplify the overall project. Even if we raise the road and lower the track bed a little each, maybe we can meet everyone’s need. I know it would not be the ideal outcome, but there are too many historic structures downtown that could be adversely affected from the blasting. I also feel that the adjusted road heights could perhaps help improve the handicap accessibility of several of our downtown businesses.