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Letter to the editor: Higher bridge clearance threatens Middlebury shops

I appreciate all the letters in this paper that have questioned the current state plan for replacing the railroad bridges in downtown Middlebury. Many important questions, concerns and alternatives have been raised or proposed. 
The need to replace these bridges is clear, but it is not clear to me that we need to increase the clearance to possibly accommodate double-decker trains in the future. To say that we need to plan for the next 100 years while not knowing if circumstances will even make double-decker trains necessary or desirable seems foolish, given the far higher costs for this option and major economic damage to Middlebury businesses the far longer project will cause. 
I fear the disruptions and parking problems will cause many businesses already operating on tight margins to fail. Just yesterday while shopping downtown I heard more than one person grumbling about how difficult it was to find parking while much of downtown is torn up for the work on the temporary bridges. Will locals and people from out of town be willing to shop or obtain services downtown during major construction over many years?
I still have so many questions that I don’t think have been adequately answered. Why should the state be prioritizing the interests of the railroad over our local businesses and our vibrant downtown? How can we predict what future cargo needs will be? Will as much fuel need to be transported by train in the future, given the state’s plan to derive more of our energy from local and renewable sources? How safe and economical will double decker trains actually be? Will future developments in train design favor a different solution? 
I have not seen any analysis that shows whether the increased costs to the state, local businesses and taxpayers would be recouped from the railroad over time — if there is such evidence it needs to be shared more widely. Or will this end up being a major taxpayer subsidy that could be avoided or spent on more pressing issues or other ways to support economic development?
I hope the town will continue weighing all the concerns and oppose the current plan instead of acquiescing. I hope our state officials will take a more realistic look at all of the impacts and follow a more sensible solution. If not, will the state be ready to bail out any businesses that may end up failing as a result of the more complicated multi-year plan? I hope I am wrong, but wishful thinking isn’t a responsible answer.
Brenda Ellis
Middlebury
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