VTrans to install temporary bridges over RR in downtown Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The long-awaited, $52 million effort to replace of Middlebury’s two downtown rail bridges is not expected to begin until early next year, but area residents this June will get a sneak preview of the major work to come. That’s when the Vermont Agency of Transportation will take out the deteriorating Merchants Row and Main Street spans and replace them with temporary bridges.
Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn on Monday issued an emergency order authorizing the VTrans to install the two temporary bridges in light of “evidence of accelerated deterioration” in the two spans, which date back to around 1920.
“We have been monitoring these bridges closely,” Flynn said through a press release. “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.”
Wayne Symonds, structures program manager for VTrans, gave the Middlebury selectboard some details on Tuesday evening about the design of the temporary bridges and a tentative timetable for their installation. He said his agency will accept input from Middlebury officials and residents prior to putting the temporary spans in place. It’s an undertaking that could save some time during the $52 million project to come, but Symonds said the temporary spans could cost the downtown more than 20 parking spaces while they are in place.
“Getting these temporary bridges in as soon as possible is my primary goal,” Symonds told the selectboard.
Symonds described the temporary crossings as being “lightweight steel truss modular bridges” that will have no posted weight limits. The decks will be made up of massive steel panels that will be covered with a thin layer of pavement to mute the noise from traffic, which will be limited to 15 miles per hour. Both bridges will be laid in about two feet higher than the spans they are currently replacing.
Plans at this point call for:
•  The Main Street temporary bridge to be roughly 50 feet long and 24 feet wide. It will accommodate two lanes of traffic. This project will restrict sidewalk access south of the bridge, between the church and Triangle Park, according to a VTrans officials. Workers will install a separate pedestrian bridge just north of this temporary span, on the post office side of the street.
Unfortunately, it’s a project that could temporarily reduce the number of parking spaces on Main Street from the current 39, to 16, according to Symonds. But he believes some of those spaces could be saved if Printer’s Alley is relegated to pedestrian traffic. The current plan maintains vehicular access to Printer’s Alley from Main Street, but only by a left turn.
“I think it’s important that we save as many parking spaces as we can,” Selectwoman Susan Shashok said.
VTrans will check into the logistics of temporarily allowing Marble Works-bound vehicles to pass back and forth through the at-grade rail crossing between Maple Street and Seymour Street.
Symonds wants to install the Main Street bridge first.
“I feel like we have more flexibility on Merchants Row for closure,” Symonds said.
•  The Merchants Row temporary bridge will be around 60 feet long, endowed with one, 14-foot-wide lane. It will allow one-way traffic eastbound across the bridge toward South Pleasant Street. Symonds said the plan will preserve parking access for Battell Block tenants. A separate pedestrian walkway will be introduced just south of the temporary bridge — the Battell Block side.
VTrans officials calculate only one of the 40 Merchants Row parking paces will be lost while the temporary bridge is in place. But a few more of those spaces could become casualties in order to maintain the Merchants Row bus stop for Addison County Transit Resources riders. That stop is slated to be relocated to South Pleasant Street sometime in September, according to Symonds.
Planners are still deciding whether to install one temporary bridge at a time, or do them both simultaneously. Symonds estimated there will be a nine-day closure to remove the current span and lay in the temporary one at each of the two locations. Doing both spans concurrently would not be ideal but could shave a few days off construction, he added.
“We need to maintain as much mobility as possible on Merchants Row while we are doing Main Street,” Symonds said.
State officials want to complete their preliminary plans for the temporary spans by mid-April. This would lead to construction in mid-June, beginning with two weeks of approach and preparatory work. If all goes smoothly, both temporary bridges should be in place — complete with lane striping — by mid-August, according to Symonds.
Meanwhile, VTrans will work with Vermont Railway on a possible suspension of train traffic for one weekend during the height of the project, according to Symonds. VTrans will also work with local schools, Middlebury College, town officials and the Town Hall Theater to coordinate construction to minimize noise and traffic impacts for major events. Symonds expects there will be at least one 24-hour workday during construction.
“There will be a couple of loud days and nights while we are demolishing the bridges,” Symonds said.
The Federal Highway Administration (95 percent) and VTrans (5 percent) will cover all costs of the temporary bridges project, according to Symonds.
Middlebury officials said they are pleased with VTrans’ decision to install temporary bridges, and they want the work to be done in a way that minimizes hardships for downtown merchants, shoppers and residents.
“This is a tough decision, but one that had to me made,” said Selectman Nick Artim.
National Bank of Middlebury President Caroline Carpenter was among around 20 audience members who listened to Symonds’ presentation. She’s concerned about the proposed proximity of the temporary bridge to the bank building façade.
“It feels like it will be pushing us off of Main Street,” Carpenter said.
Meanwhile, Vermont Rail and VTrans were in Middlebury on Monday applying spray-foam to the potential bat roosts observed under the two bridges. The goal was 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.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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