Middlebury RR bridge getting a major rehab

MIDDLEBURY — While controversy reigns over the proposed replacement of Middlebury’s two downtown rail bridges, work is quietly proceeding on another rail span project just a short distance away.
At issue is the 200-foot-long rail trestle bridge located off Water Street, just south of the Cross Street Bridge. Built in the late 1800s, the steel structure is deteriorating and is now undergoing a $1.4-million repair project coordinated by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).
The bridge is around 20 feet wide and the trusses are around 28 feet high, according to Tim Pockette, resident engineer for VTrans’ southwest construction region. Its construction includes angled steel plates that are riveted together. It has been supporting train traffic for more than a century and is due for a substantial overhaul, Pockette explained.
“I don’t think there’s a potential for the (bridge) to fall down or tip over, or anything like that,” Pockette said of the current condition of the span. “We are updating it to bring it to safer levels.”
Dan Delabruere, rail program director for VTrans, indicated in a Dec. 3 email to Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay that the rehab project is intended to increase both the weight limit and the life of the bridge.
Pockette said work this winter will include replacing the current abutments with some precast concrete versions, and updating some of the bridge members running underneath the train tracks that are showing wear and tear. Some of the truss members are also in need of replacement, he noted.
Work will also include removing rivets and steel plates and adding new plates with bolts. This work will occur during the daytime hours and will be done Monday to Friday, using pneumatic equipment, torches, and a high-rail excavator, according to Pockette.
“There will be minimal disturbance to the existing ground and excavation will not be done until next summer,” he noted in a recent email to Middlebury officials. The project is not expected to affect local vehicle traffic in any way, he added.
Replacement of the abutments is also scheduled for the summer of 2016, according to Pockette, during which the bridge will be jacked up. He anticipates two, 48-hour shutdowns of the bridge to accommodate this work. Otherwise, daily freight train service will continue on the span, Pockette said. Transportation officials have yet to pick the two weekends during which the bridge will be closed.
Williston-based ECI Engineers Construction is doing the work. If work is allowed to proceed through the winter, Pockette believes the job can be completed by September of next year. The company has been negotiating with adjacent property owners for access to the bridge. In the meantime, passersby walking along Seymour Street, just north of downtown, have been able to see ECI workers using the train tracks to move equipment south to the worksite at the trestle bridge.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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