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Middlebury fends off bridges complaint

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday revisited the upcoming effort to replace the downtown rail bridges and rebuild the railroad through downtown Middlebury, a state and federally funded project expected to run from 2018 to 2020 and include major disruption to the downtown in its final summer.
Chairman Brian Carpenter said the latest he heard from the Agency of Transportation is that agency officials are leaning toward installing temporary bridges sooner, rather than later, in order to make the entire project run more smoothly.
“That solution is in serious consideration,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said that VTrans officials do not believe the bridges are ready to collapse, but are concerned issues could crop up in the middle of the project.
“They’re not worried about safety right now,” he said, adding that VTrans officials are expected to attend the board’s March 28 meeting to discuss the temporary bridge proposal.
Board members also approved a letter in response to an email from Middlebury resident Bruce Hiland. Hiland, who has been critical of the board’s work on this matter, alleging it has done too little to protect downtown interests, asked how the board “could support a project that would”:
•  “Delay replacement of the bridges at least three years when an alternative project would replace the bridges this summer?”
•  “Disrupt the core of Middlebury for at least three years when an alternative project would fulfill Middlebury’s primary objective (support passenger rail) in one construction season?”
•  Spend $12 million “protecting the financial interests of Vermont Rail Systems but do nothing to protect the financial interests of affected Middlebury business and property owners?”
Selectman Victor Nuovo said the board was being “harassed,” because, “I feel these were loaded questions, and we couldn’t answer them without admitting wrong.”
Selectman Nick Artim called the email “ongoing badgering.”
In response, the board wrote a letter that stated Hiland’s questions were “founded on misstatements of fact and therefore need to be rectified … there is no alternative plan for replacing the bridges, no cost estimate, and no money in the town budget to pay for it.”
The town’s letter stated, “The current proposal will only significantly disrupt Middlebury in the third year. There is no alternative plan to reduce this disruption,” and that the $12 million protects not only Vermont Rail, but “many businesses that depend upon the rail service for their livelihood. Several of these are located in Middlebury.”
The letter also asks Hiland to take “notice of substantial and lasting benefits” of the project, including “safe and slightly (better) bridges,” new sidewalks and curbs, a safer Printer’s Alley, a larger town green and “overall an improved downtown streetscape.”

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