Emergency order authorizes temporary spans for Middlebury this June

MIDDLEBURY — On Monday morning Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn issued an emergency order authorizing the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to install two temporary bridges over the railroad tracks in downtown Middlebury in advance of a long-planned tunnel project.
While recent inspections have shown the bridges on Main Street and Merchants Row to be safe for travel, evidence of accelerated deterioration has prompted the agency to rapidly install temporary bridges this summer as a precautionary measure.
“We have been monitoring these bridges closely,” Flynn said. “In view of the current project timeline and the rapidly evolving state of the structures, we feel it is prudent to install temporary bridges this summer, before we are forced into a situation requiring an emergency closure. This declaration allows VTrans to prioritize our resources and accelerate the design to rapidly install these bridges.”
Preparatory work will begin as early as today on repairs to ensure the bridges can operate safely until the temporary structures can be installed. Workers will be active under the bridges and sidewalks. Current plans are to demolish the existing bridges and replace them starting in mid-June with Mabey-brand steel bridges that will remain in place until they can be replaced by permanent structures.
Middlebury selectboard Chair Brian Carpenter saw positives in installing the temporary bridges sooner rather than waiting for a probem to develop.
“It is clear from the continuing deterioration of both bridges that decisive action is needed to protect the safety of our community and to avoid an unplanned closure like the one we experienced when Lake Champlain Bridge closed overnight in October 2009, Carpenter said. “During the past several months the Agency of Transportation has proved themselves to be a good partner, and I am confident that they will work hard to ensure that our priorities are met. We are committed to clearly communicating plans for the temporary bridges with the community and to involving all key stakeholders in the joint effort to keep our downtown fully accessible to all who live, work, shop and conduct business here.”
VTrans will present preliminary plans and discuss impacts to parking and mobility that will result from the site conditions that come with the installation of temporary bridges at the Middlebury selectboard meeting on Tuesday, March 28, at 6 p.m. at the Middlebury town offices, 778 Main St.
Middlebury officials have been working with VTrans for the past four years on plans to replace the two deteriorating downtown bridges, which are nearing 100 years old. The finalized plan, a proposed $52 million project, would replace the existing railway bed with new tracks after lowering the bed by about two feet to accommodate a 21-foot height requirement. The project includes two new pre-cast concrete bridges and tunnel covering the railway from Main Street to Merchants Row, and a new drainage system that would clear standing water off the tracks. The three-to-four-year-long project is currently on hold pending an environmental assessment by the Agency of Natural Resources.
Because of the uncertainty of when the project will be completed and when the bridges would be replaced (at the earliest in 2020), the state, with the town selectboard’s blessing, agreed that installing the temporary bridges was the best possible interim solution. The Emergency Declaration provides the legal authority to demolish the existing bridges and install temporary bridges this June.
Vermont Rail and VTrans will also be in Middlebury on Monday, March 27, to spray-foam the potential bat roosts observed under the two bridges in order to protect the bats by ensuring that they do not try to roost under the bridges in advance of demolition. By law, any change in bat habitat must be done by April 1.
The target date to begin installation of the temporary bridges is mid-June. The work is expected to be done sequentially, starting with the Main Street Bridge, and taking about three weeks to complete.
Addison County Transit Resources, the local public bus system, will need to vacate the Merchants Row hub in June. The organization has begun developing plans to relocate to South Pleasant Street.
Town officials said that stakeholder meetings will take place in April to ensure businesses and property owners in the downtown area fully understand the plans for the temporary bridges and their impact.
Officials stressed late last month that the current bridges were not in danger of falling down, pointing out that some of the undergirding included the same type of steel rails that trains run on.
But a Jan. 30, 2016, VTrans inspection report on the Merchants Row bridge gave it a “poor” rating for its superstructure, a “serious” rating for its deck, and a “satisfactory” rating for its substructure. Inspectors appraised it as not meeting current federal standards for its railings, transitions and guardrail. The bridge met minimum “tolerable criteria” in its structural evaluation, according to the inspection.
Inspectors gave the Main Street rail bridge similar grades, though they gave it a structural evaluation of “Intolerable, replacement needed.”
VTrans is working closely with the town of Middlebury as it develops preliminary plans the installation of temporary bridges at the Middlebury. Status updates on the project will be posted on the project website, http://vtrans.vermont.gov/projects/middlebury.

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