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MALT to upgrade path at railroad crossing on trail

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) is planning state-mandated improvements to a prominent rail crossing along the Trail Around Middlebury, upgrades intended to make the increasingly popular path safer for walkers, runners and cyclists.
The estimated $37,000 project will involve installation of metal gates and asphalt surface at the crossing, which is located just west of the swinging footbridge, known as Boathouse Bridge, that spans the Otter Creek. It is on the trail between Fucile Field, which hosts Middlebury Union High School soccer, baseball and softball games, to the east and the Middlebury College ball fields to the west.
Currently, there’s just a rudimentary path — made of hard-packed gravel and some wood shavings — at that rail crossing. It’s about six feet wide. Work vehicles can cross it. The college has a pump station near the crossing, and the school runs some classes, at the adjacent ball fields, noted MALT Executive Director Carl Robinson.
He said the crossing has come under increased scrutiny of late, with recent improvements to the rail line and in light of wider use of the TAM. The TAM has become a very popular running path.
“It came to light that this needed to be worked on,” Robinson said.
“It’s a safety requirement,” he added of the VTrans request. “We’re going to be required to install some safety gates with a pad over the railroad tracks, so it will be easier to cross. Right now, there’s quite a big lip for people to walk across, run over, or bike over.”
MALT, Vermont Railway, VTrans and Middlebury College are working collaboratively to plan the project to make sure it is well designed and adequately financed. The college owns the fields on both sides of the track. Vermont Railway owns the track right of way.
“We are working on this together to get these gates and crossing pad installed. Since it is on the Vermont Railway right of way, work has to be done closely with them,” Robinson said. “There are some specifications we will have to work with.”
MALT received an estimate of $37,000 from ECI Engineers Construction Inc. to do the job.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said an initial draft of the fiscal year 2018 budget includes a sum of $7,500 for the MALT rail crossing. Robinson said he has yet to approach the town with a specific financial request. He will eventually make a pitch to both the town and Middlebury College. The organization will search for grants and solicit donations in an effort to come up with the entire $37,000 budget.
“If it could all be funded through grants, I think that would be great,” Robinson said. “This is a very important connector for the TAM, and also as a path for everybody. Kids use it to get to school, and it is used for commuting and as a recreation path. I think it’s an important resource that we have.”
If all goes well, the rail crossing should be completed by next spring, according to Robinson.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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