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Middlebury bridges meeting set for May 11

MIDDLEBURY — Downtown Middlebury stakeholders concerned about the planned replacement of the two downtown rail bridges will have a chance to comment on the proposed environmental impact of the project at a hearing this Thursday, May 11, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall Theater.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), cooperating with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, on April 26 released an Environmental Assessment (EA) that discusses the effects of the proposed Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project. The project is to address the structural deficiencies of bridges over the railroad on Main Street and Merchants Row. The $52 million project would replace the two bridges with a single 350-foot-long tunnel. 
The 196-page report details potential project impacts to threatened or endangered species; air and water quality; historic and cultural sites; and social and economic services in the downtown. It also offers possible mitigation steps for those impacts.
Officials stressed that the report doesn’t offer any conclusions at this point as to whether Middlebury rail bridges construction should begin next spring as tentatively scheduled, or be subject to a more intensive Environmental Impact Statement review that could delay the work for another few years.
An electronic version of the EA is available with this story by clicking here. Hard copies and electronic copies on CD are available at the Ilsley Public Library, 75 Main St., and at the Town Manager’s office located at 77 Main St.
Before the formal hearing Thursday, an information session will be held from 4-6 p.m. The hearing will begin at 7 p.m. and conclude at 9 p.m. At the informational session, project plans and information will be available for viewing and the project team will be available to answer questions. Written and verbal comments will be accepted at the public hearing.
The FHWA encourages all interested parties to provide comments concerning the scope and content of the EA. Comments should be as specific as possible and address the analysis of potential environmental impacts, the adequacy of the bridge replacement plan or merits of alternatives, and the mitigation being considered. Reviewers should organize their participation so that it is meaningful and makes FHWA aware of the reviewer’s interests and concerns using quotations and other specific references to the text of the EA and related documents.
Comments may be presented verbally at the public hearing, or may be submitted in writing until May 26 via email to [email protected] or via U.S. Mail to: Kenneth R. Sikora, Environmental Program Manager, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Building, Suite 216, 87 State St., Montpelier, VT 05602-9505.
Meanwhile, Middlebury town officials have OK’d a plan to demolish the Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges this summer and replace them with temporary spans that should be operating by mid-August.

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