Letter to the editor: VTrans and former leader failing town of Middlebury

VTrans, under the leadership of state officials including Sue Minter, has failed Addison County on Middlebury rail and bridge issues.
I respond to Mr. Russell’s letter to the editor (Addison Independent, Sept. 29) and do so as a long-time Democrat who fully supports commercial development and rail development in Vermont.
On June 10, 1999, a pipeline leaked 277,000 gallons of gasoline (equivalent to seven rail cars) into a park waterway in Bellingham, Wash. The gasoline traveled down river 1.5 miles and ignited in an explosion that killed three and incinerated everything on both banks of the river. The YouTube videos of the event are available online and deserve a viewing.
On Oct. 22, 2007, a train derailed in downtown Middlebury. News reports counted 10-15 cars of gasoline. Official filings suggest seven rail cars of gasoline.
On that day and for each day thereafter the state departments and city officials have voiced safety concerns on our downtown rail corridor. As recently as Feb. 17, 2016, in a presentation to the Vermont Rail Council the number one item cited for the project is safety. Slides are included in that report showing serious decay, water and resulting seasonal ice problems, and evidence of parts of the bridge falling on the track where trains must pass. In a recent discussion, the president of Vermont Rail was quoted as having stated that his train operators are fearful each time they pass through Middlebury. This is all known while gasoline and other dangerous chemicals pass through Middlebury each day.
Laying on their sides and hanging over Otter Creek in 2007 the railcars purged gasoline into Otter Creek and into the water table below. On that day rescue workers held water hoses on the cars, cars that were heating in the sun.  Had the railcars exploded the event surely would have taken rescue worker lives and those of others in Middlebury that day. 
If a Bellingham event came to Middlebury our downtown Middlebury rail fire would envelop three schools, a hospital, residences and offices, the home of the Middlebury College president, Town Hall Theater, four or more churches, the bank, and anyone in Middlebury that day.
Sue Minter did not originate the railroad project in Middlebury, but she is responsible for failing to set a priority for safety in Middlebury and her visit to Middlebury one year ago clearly highlighted how out of touch she was with the issues.
For Nine years — repeat nine years — the Vermont team has not solved the dangerous problem of our bridges. VTrans failed and continues to fail Addison County in the matter most important to you — keeping us safe.
In a state where VTrans and Minter have taken credit for repairing or replacing more than 20 such bridges in a three-month period you will wonder, as I have, why nothing has happened.
The answer is simple — VTrans has decided that they want to get federal funding for an unnecessary $55 million, three to five year project which will upgrade VTrans infrastructure on the federal checkbook. This approach is taken instead of following the easier path of replacing the bridges at grade level for a fraction of the cost planned in time and money.
Federal funding replacing state funding is the only real issue. Passenger rail does not require the deep cut planned. Environmental issues are made worse by the deep cut. Safety issues are worse with the deep cut during and after the work is done. The proposed federal funding is not confirmed. The larger project has yet to be fully designed and the state plans to do the work from 2017 to 2020, crippling life in Middlebury.
Here is our request of VTrans: Replace the bridges at grade starting today.
Once your planning and design work is completed for a deepening below grade, including a clear cost of the work to be done, submit it to the town of Middlebury for review and approval.
Anticipate the town engaging a first-tier engineering firm to review and offer comment on the plan as presented.
Anticipate the state reimbursing all costs of the legal and environmental review by the town. This is a project to improve VTrans property and to undertake safety work that VTrans is obligated to do.  There is no reason why the town’s costs (public or private) should not be reimbursed by the beneficiaries of the work.
Sue Minter runs from this topic when asked to address these issues — not returning calls and dodging questions in public meetings.
VTrans does not tell a story deserving our trust.
George Dorsey

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