Workers to get busy ‘microtunneling’ on Middlebury rail bridges by mid-April

MIDDLEBURY — Work on the much-publicized Middlebury rail bridges project will kick off in around three weeks, starting with a new drainage system that will be bored into four downtown locations.
Officials from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, Kubricky Construction and VHB Inc., gave the Middlebury selectboard an update on Tuesday about this year’s to-do list for the $72 million project. That effort is expected to conclude in 2021 with a new concrete tunnel that will house the railroad track through downtown and supplant the Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges.
Downtown Middlebury residents, business owners and shoppers endured phase one of the project this past summer. That involved replacing the two deteriorating, 1920s-era rail spans with temporary bridges.
Phase two kicked off recently with cutting of trees within the rail project area. That work is almost done, according to VHB Project Manager Aaron Guyette.
More noticeable evidence of phase two will become clear near the end of April — prep work on the four shafts and related microtunneling that will be dug to produce a drainage system for the downtown rail bed that borders the Otter Creek.
The most high-profile of these shafts will be near the intersection of Main Street and Printer’s Alley. Fencing will soon go up around the project site, with the actual microtunneling to begin in August. Work at Printer’s Alley is due to wrap sometime in April of 2019, according to Guyette.
Construction will at times halt pedestrian flow through Printer’s Alley and thus to the Marble Works, officials said. But Guyette anticipates a narrow pedestrian path will remain open along the alley during most of the work.
Work will also affect a portion of the Marble Works this year — primarily on the slope fronting the Otter Creek falls. That’s where the drainage system outflow will be installed. A temporary access road will be built from the Marble Works parking lot to the new outflow pipe opening, which will empty into the swirling basin at the foot of the falls that currently collects fallen trees and limbs.
Local project liaison Jim Gish said the small Marble Works park above the construction area will remain open for public use. The access road will be removed and the grass restored after work is completed, and the Marble Works pathway to the Otter Creek footbridge will be repaved, officials said.
Also due to begin in April will be preparations for another drainage-related shaft, this one to be drilled into a spot on Triangle Park near St. Stephen’s Church. This will start with removal of park amenities and the installation of fencing around the park. Drilling and blasting is set to begin in August, with completion expected in January.
Triangle Park work will result in the long-term loss of about five nearby downtown parking spaces, project planners said.
A fourth drainage shaft will be excavated near the train tracks, behind the Middlebury Fire Department headquarters off Seymour Street. Fencing is set to go up at that location in May, with drilling and blasting set for September. That segment of the project is forecast for completion next February.
Workers this summer will also focus on another element of “phase two” — a temporary access road from the south (Otter Creek) end of Water Street along the rail line and, eventually, into the Battell parking lot. Its purpose is to allow construction vehicles to access the rail corridor in 2018 and 2019 and to provide access to the Battell parking lot for residents.
Phase two also calls for burying utilities that are currently above ground in Printer’s Alley and Merchants Row crossing.
Guyette warned of the following project impacts:
•  Short-term closures of Printer’s Alley.
•  Installation of a “utility duct bank” across Merchants Row.
•  Intermittent truck traffic downtown.
•  Construction noise during daytime work hours, described as 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with some “isolated extended hours and weekends.”
Officials promised the projects will be interrupted for the Festival on the Green, Peasant’s Market and Lion’s Club auction.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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