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Middlebury finds money to extend Exchange Street sidewalk

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury wants to reallocate $240,000 in state funds that had been earmarked for safety improvements to Printer’s Alley to instead help lengthen a proposed shared-use path along Exchange Street.
It was in 2010 that the Vermont Agency of Transportation gave Middlebury the $240,000 state grant — requiring a $60,000 local match — to “create and enhance pedestrian accommodations from Main Street into the Marble Works and the Pedestrian Bridge across Otter Creek.” Printer’s Alley is the only direct link between the downtown and the Marble Works business complex.
But the money has remained unspent while state and local officials plan a $52 million replacement of the town’s two downtown rail bridges. Current plans call for a construction team to begin work next month installing temporary bridges over the railroad on Merchants Row and Main Street. This plan will, among other things, result in closure of Printer’s Alley to vehicles. The looming four years of downtown construction makes it unlikely that the grant-related improvements for Printer’s Alley will get done anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on use of the grant. Middlebury must commit the funds by the end of this year or they will disappear.
“You need to spend that money or you’re going to lose it,” Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee warned the selectboard on Tuesday.
So Lougee recommended the town ask VTrans to reallocate the grant to a different Middlebury transportation project: Construction of a shared-use path for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists along the 1.5-mile length of Exchange Street, from Elm Street to Route 7.
The current Exchange Street project has already received two rounds of grant funding that will pay for the shared-use path to extend roughly 3,500 feet from the Elm Street intersection to the south entrance of Catamount Park, noted Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay. The combined $240,000 from the Printer’s Alley grant and $60,000 local match would allow for design and construction of an additional 2,000 linear feet of shared-use path to reach to just south of Mainelli Road, Ramsay said. This would bring the project to around two-thirds completion.
“It would be relatively easy to start another phase of that (sidewalk) with that money,” Lougee said.
Selectboard members unanimously endorsed Lougee’s suggestion. Ramsay has put the town’s request for the grant transfer in a letter to VTrans Project Manager Scott Robertson.
“We believe this proposed amendment constitutes a win-win for VTrans and the town of Middlebury,” Ramsay wrote. “It fulfills the initial purpose of providing bicycle and pedestrian connectivity into Middlebury’s downtown (albeit from a different location), allows the money to flow quickly into a pre-identified existing contract and need that will allow Middlebury to efficiently advance the project to the milestones necessary for it to retain the funding.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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