Opinion: Bypass around Middlebury is not a viable option
A major disruption to the life of downtown Middlebury will occur in the next few years as the railroad tunnel is enlarged. Nobody wants this disruption, and so suggestions for alternatives have been suggested.
One seemingly logical suggestion is to build a rail bypass around Middlebury; this note explains why that idea won’t happen. People who lived here in the 1960s and 1970s remember the proposed plan to build a easterly or westerly Route 7 bypass. That bypass would have eliminated the two 90-degree corners that huge trucks must make in the center of town. It was a good idea: plenty of vacant land on both sides of town for construction, and turns can be made easily to facilitate construction. Yet, after lengthy discussion, the college and the town could not agree on a solution because of many justifiable reasons on both sides.
The reasons arguing against a rail bypass today are very different than they were for a highway bypass four decades ago. The most obvious is that a railroad line must be straight for long distances; trains cannot turn as easily as autos. The second obvious changed reason is that the land that was vacant 40 years ago is no longer vacant mainly because of real estate development.
So, it seems that we shall have a period of tunnel construction in the near future. We shall lobby the transportation/railroad folks to build in such a way as to produce minimal disruption to our town, and, hopefully, they will comply.
A railroad track with many long tunnels is situated on the western edge of Lake Champlain. It will be interesting to see how future construction is handled over there, since they have so many more daily trains than we do over here.
Dave Van Vleck