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Downtown Middlebury bus stop to be moving

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Transit Resources’ downtown Middlebury bus stop will soon move from Merchants Row to South Pleasant Street, but riders shouldn’t grow too accustomed to the new spot — the stop will again be on the move this fall.
It’s all in anticipation of work to replace Middlebury’s two downtown rail bridges.
The Middlebury selectboard last week agreed to give ACTR exclusive rights to six striped parking spaces adjacent to the former Cole’s Flowers building (now owned by the Illick family) on South Pleasant. Those spaces will allow as many as four ACTR buses to line up to serve riders primarily bound for stops in Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol. The stop will also accommodate buses bound from Middlebury to Burlington and Rutland.
The new temporary bus stop must be moved by June 12. In order to keep the sidewall clear, there will not be a shelter for riders. Although there has been discussion of making vehicles travel in only one direction on South Pleasant Street, that is not part of the plan approved unanimously by the selectboard on May 23, though the one-way option is still under consideration.
Buses will not be allowed to idle while picking up or discharging passengers, according to the plan the selectboard unanimously endorsed on May 23. ACTR will have to work its bus schedule around a planned replacement of a sidewalk on South Pleasant Street for around one week in late June-early July.
“Buses won’t idle, except in cases when (drivers) are lowering the ramp” to bring on wheelchair bound passenger, noted Jim Gish, Middlebury’s community liaison for the rail bridges project. The $52 million project will come into focus in a few weeks, when workers begin installing temporary spans at the current, deteriorating Main Street and Merchants Row bridges. Those 1920s-era bridges will be demolished. Work will begin in earnest next spring on replacing those two bridges with a concrete tunnel, a project slated to last into 2021.
It’s a monumental task that will cause temporary inconveniences for downtown residents, shoppers, merchants and travelers — including those who ride the bus. ACTR officials want their riders to have a safe, predictable bus stop to replace the familiar location on Merchants Row.
It was more than a year ago that ACTR and town officials began considering temporary locations for the bus stop. In February of 2016, they weighed three potential locations: Seymour Street, the Ilsley Library parking lot and South Pleasant Street. Each spot was measured against 17 criteria, including passenger access, safety, neighborhood impact, and traffic impact. South Pleasant Street emerged as the clear winner, according to members of a Local Project Management Team that represented Middlebury’s interests in the rail bridges project.
But not everyone was on board with the South Pleasant Street option.
Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner and members of the Middlebury Planning Commission argued Seymour Street would be a better option for an interim bus stop. The identified spot was across the street from Fire & Ice Restaurant, near the National Bank of Middlebury parking lot.
Planning commission members said the Seymour Street spot could help in the revitalization of the former Greg’s Meat Market property, and could help tie into a future transportation hub. South Pleasant Street, they argued, is more of a residential area.
ACTR countered that South Pleasant Street is closer to the core downtown and more conveniently located to its current routes. Moreover, they noted Middlebury Fire Chief Dave Shaw’s opposition to a bus stop being located close to the department’s fire station, which can become a busy place as firefighters muster for an emergency call.
“Finding common ground here was a challenge,” Gish acknowledged.
This is likely just the first transition for the ACTR bus stop. The town will soon appoint another study committee to determine where the stop should make another construction-related shift to what will be a longer-term — and perhaps even permanent — placement. Jim Moulton, ACTR’s executive director, is hoping the stop will simply migrate a short distance to the northern end of South Pleasant, close to the Town Hall Theater. But the committee will ultimately recommend a lead option to the selectboard, around Thanksgiving.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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