Progress made on Midd. RR bridges: VTrans offers new specifics on project

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Agency of Transportation officials planning the replacement of Middlebury’s two downtown rail bridges confirm that a related parking garage and the relocation of a public transit bus stop will be covered under the estimated $40 million project budget, but no funds are being earmarked for assisting local merchants who might lose business during construction.
VTrans officials on Jan. 6 issued these and other responses to some longstanding questions the town of Middlebury has wanted to clear up in advance of the scheduled replacement of the deteriorating rail bridges on Merchants Row and Main Street. The four-year project is tentatively set to begin this summer and potentially spill over into 2019. Middlebury officials and downtown merchants have been pressing for minimal disruptions to shopping, traveling and entertainment activities while the work proceeds.
Middlebury’s Local Project Management Team (LPMT) this past Wednesday received and discussed the VTrans responses. Here are some of the highlights:
•  Implementing 12-hour construction days, instead of the currently planned 20-hour work days, would “more than double” the project duration and result in significant cost increases.
“Currently, there is efficiency in that there is a single temporary track relocation for two shifts of work,” according to VTrans officials. “With a 12-hour scenario, there would be temporary track relocation required for every shift of work. This will double the times the track will need to be removed and reset. If the town intends to pursue this exercise and the expected results are yielded there will need to be cost sharing discussions between the town and VTrans.”
Selectwoman Donna Donahue, a member of the LPMT, said the town should continue to push for a construction timetable that recognizes major downtown events.
“There should be times when they are able to accommodate a flexible schedule,” Donahue said at the Jan. 6 gathering.
•  The town had requested that VTrans establish a fund to help businesses that might suffer economic losses as a result of the rail project.
“VTrans does not have a grant program for business interruptions related to construction activities,” state transportation officials said.
But VTrans officials noted the USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant program extends help to communities facing an interruption in downtown business traffic due to construction projects. These grants are made to nonprofit organizations or municipalities to grow or retain jobs in rural communities.
“We’ve got to redouble our efforts to find resources in other areas,” LPMT member Ken Perine said.
•  VTrans has agreed to fund the relocation of the existing ACTR bus stop on Merchants Row. The leading scenario is for the stop to be temporarily moved to South Pleasant Street. Funding will not cover any “enhancements or additional amenities over and above the existing features,” state officials said.
•  Federal funding will be provided for a rented, temporary parking facility that would be located off Bakery Lane, behind the Ilsley Library. But officials stressed the assistance will end once the rail bridges project is completed.
•  Middlebury will be made an official stop if Amtrak proceeds with its plan for passenger rail services from Rutland to Burlington. The town will also receive a grant allowance for a train platform, but any additional train station amenities would need to be covered by the town. Middlebury College students are currently helping plan for a Middlebury train station that could someday be sited on state land off McIntyre Lane.
•  Federal money will be available for the undergrounding of specific utilities affected by the rail bridges project. Town officials had hoped that state and federal resources would also pay for undergrounding some utilities not directly affected by the project, given the headaches the work will produce for the community.
•  Current plans call for a temporary pedestrian bridge to be installed alongside a planned temporary vehicular bridge on Main Street, and for a pedestrian path to be installed across the green on the north side of St. Stephen’s Church.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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