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Vergennes discusses bridge replacement

VERGENNES — While the main focus of a Nov. 15 meeting in Middlebury of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) was the Agency of Transportation’s promise to study a truck bypass around downtown Vergennes (see story in this edition), VTrans and local officials also discussed replacing or rebuilding the Vergennes bridge over Otter Creek, possibly within a decade.
That project would make the bridge more pedestrian friendly by adding a sidewalk to the span’s north side, which overlooks the falls and provides access to the Grist Mill and Pump House islands.
Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley said the city’s priority would be to have a bridge that functions like the relatively new span in downtown Middlebury.
“Having a sidewalk on both sides, like the Cross Street Bridge, that will be No. 1,” Hawley said.
The sidewalk would make it safer and easier for pedestrians to reach the city-owned Pump House Island, which Hawley called “a mini-park.” He noted the Grist Mill Island now holds a mix of apartments and an office, and its owner plans to install more apartments for a total of nine.
Hawley said a sidewalk on the north side would also provide a safer link between downtown and homes and businesses on the north side of West Main Street, and between downtown and Falls Park, on the west side of Otter Creek.
Hawley said the bridge was built in the mid-1960s and is the top bridge in Addison County on VTrans’ list for a major project. At the Nov. 15 TAC meeting VTrans director of policy, planning and research Joe Segale gave a PowerPoint presentation that, in Hawley’s words, said the project is “five to 10 years out.”
Segale, in a Friday interview, confirmed the bridge is on VTrans’ radar, but said there is no formal timetable.
“Right now there’s no project on our list. It’s on our long list of town bridge projects,” Segale said. “I think it’s 48th on our list.”
He also confirmed he used the estimate that Hawley cited, based on a reading of the bridge’s “structural deficiency rating.” Segale said the bridge is showing wear and will be monitored, but that the timetable is not set in stone. 
“That was just an approximation that I did based on where it is right now on our list. It’s not structurally deficient at the moment. It doesn’t need any immediate replacement or major reconstruction work,” he said. “I just ballparked, well, we’re probably not going to do anything major there for five to 10 years.”
Segale agreed a second sidewalk would be a likely addition during a major project, although VTrans has not begun making any specific design for a rebuild or replacement.
“When it comes time to do something with that bridge I imagine we’ll work with the community to provide something that meets their needs, and given its location and if it needs new sidewalks and things like that, it would only be logical that we would include it,” Segale said. 

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