Downtown Middlebury bus stop is moving closer to college

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) is preparing to move its Middlebury bus hub from South Pleasant Street to Academy Street in November.
The planned switch comes after several weeks of discussion between ACTR and town officials about where to put Middlebury’s central bus stop — which serves as a nexus for buses and riders traveling within Addison County, along with points south and north. It needs to be shifted in advance of an upcoming, three-year effort to replace the Main Street and Merchants Row bridges.
Moving the stop to Academy Street, near to the newly created park where Middlebury’s old municipal building once stood, will require ACTR to make some bus scheduling changes and devise some new stops in town in order to ensure smooth connections for people who take multiple buses each day.
Headquartered in Middlebury, ACTR in fiscal year 2016 provided almost 116,000 rides through six bus routes. Those routes include the Tri-Town Shuttle between Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes; the Middlebury Shuttle; the Route 116 Commuter; the Rutland Connector; the Burlington Link; and the Snow Bowl Shuttle.
Until recently, ACTR’s central Middlebury stop was on Merchants Row. But the public transportation organization earlier this year relocated that stop to South Pleasant Street (in front of the former Cole’s Flowers store) in anticipation of the installation of a temporary rail bridge on Merchants Row. That work is wrapping up this week, but construction will begin next spring on a tunnel project that will replace both of the new temporary bridges over the railroad in downtown.
South Pleasant Street was been deemed a “short-term” temporary spot for the ACTR bus hub. This past spring, ACTR and town officials began to consider three possible spots that could accommodate the Middlebury stop for at least the three-year duration of the rail bridges project. Under consideration were locations on Seymour Street, Academy Street and the South Pleasant Street spot.
The town of Middlebury formed an “ACTR Relocation Working Group” that evaluated the three spots and ultimately recommended Academy Street as the preferred location for reasons that include passenger safety, visibility and adequate space for buses.
ACTR is now working with a company to design the new bus stop, according to Bill Cunningham, the organization’s regional director. Here are the basic features of the proposed Academy Street stop, based on a conceptual drawing:
•  All street parking would become a dedicated bus zone.
•  The current curb would be cut back 8 feet, to the existing sidewalk, to get buses further away from the traffic flow.
•  A small shelter for passengers, fronted by a concrete apron, would be installed at the intersection of Academy and Franklin streets.
•  Flashing beacons and a stoplight interrupter would be installed at the head of Academy Street, just before Franklin Street, to give priority passage to buses exiting to South Main Street.
The Academy Street plan also calls for the use of two parking spots on South Main Street to create a new bus stop near South Street. Planners are also eyeing two spaces on Main Street for a stop near the Community House.
Parking is at a premium in downtown Middlebury — and will be even more so during the next few years with construction disruption. So Middlebury officials will be sensitive to any bus stop plans that might significantly reduce the number of downtown spaces.
“There’s a lot less parking,” Cunningham said. “So what was valuable parking to folks before (the rail bridges project) is even more valuable to people now.”
On the plus side, Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner noted at a recent working group meeting that Academy Street is close to two long-term parking areas. He added the stop would be more convenient to Middlebury College campus.
The Middlebury Infrastructure Committee and town selectboard have both endorsed the Academy Street bus stop location, though members will get a chance to review final plans.
In the meantime, ACTR officials will need to study and tweak its schedule to ensure smooth connections between all of the bus routes, according to Cunningham. There’s also the matter of adding new stops to accommodate riders who want to run errands in the downtown.
“Moving the transfer point across town disrupts our schedule and does not allow us to be able to service the heart of the downtown as well as Merchants Row did,” Cunningham said. “So we have to identify some drop-off and pick-up spots in the downtown area to complement what will be a system re-do.”
Cunningham said ACTR is prepared to make Academy Street the permanent bus hub location in Middlebury if it works as well as officials believe it can. He’d like to see the stop in place by Thanksgiving, and certainly before winter takes hold.
“We need to be in before the snow flies,” Cunningham said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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