Merchants Row closure in 2020 to last an additional three weeks

MIDDLEBURY — Downtown Middlebury business owners, residents and shoppers are readying for a 10-week shutdown of both Merchants Row and Main Street during the summer of 2020 in order to accommodate the heaviest construction on a new tunnel to replace two aging rail bridges.
It’s been billed as a “tear-off-the-Band Aid” approach to get the most intensive work done as quickly as possible on the $72 million project.
But Middlebury officials learned Tuesday that the metaphorical Band Aid will come off more slowly for business owners, shoppers and travelers on Merchants Row.
Kubricky Construction Corp. wants to remove the temporary bridge on Merchants Row around three weeks earlier than anticipated in 2020 in order to install key infrastructure for the 360-foot concrete tunnel. Kubricky also wants to use the extra time to salvage several rows of massive ashlar stone blocks from the work area that will be used for landscaping.
“These things have added time that we had not originally anticipated, and have added details and scope,” Mark Alexander, Kubricky’s vice president for construction, told the selectboard on Tuesday.
The premise of the early Merchants Row closure: Get all the support excavation work completed so crews can maximize productivity on tunnel construction during the ensuing 10-week closure period.
“If we can get in and pull the bridge out and advance some work in this area to get the tie-backs installed, it will give us a really good chance for success during the 10-week outage, which I think will benefit everyone in the long run,” Alexander said.
“We recognize this is an ‘ask,’ with the 10 weeks coming on its heels,” he added. “We’ve basically been able to engineer every other scenario on the job to get all of the support excavation in before the outage, except for this little piece right here, and we’re pretty much out of ideas other than to get those tie-backs installed through taking the bridge down a few weeks early.”
The “tie-backs” will anchor a temporary wall that will be needed during construction, according to Alexander. The area in which the tie-backs and temporary wall must be installed is located under the temporary bridge.
Plans call for Kubricky crews to mobilize on Merchants Row on Monday, May 4, and work during a three-week period that Alexander said won’t encroach on Middlebury College graduation or Memorial Day weekend.
A crane will be erected on the Town Hall Theater side of Merchants Row to help workers disassemble and move the temporary bridge, according to Alexander. Construction vehicles will need to access both sides of Merchants Row to remove the bridge components and ashlar blocks, he said.
Kubricky’s anticipated work hours on Merchants Row will be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, along with the potential need to extend into the early evening in order to complete a specific task. But Anderson confirmed his team will be able to flex its schedule depending on the needs of the town and affected businesses. That includes the option of night shifts.
“We could go 24/7 on the bridge portion, just to expedite how fast the bridge is gone and out of the way so we shrink our footprint,” he said.
Kubricky officials stressed access to the Battell Block parking lot will be maintained through an already built temporary access road from Water Street. People will still be able to access Battell Block merchants and services from both ends of Merchants Row.
The construction crew’s footprint will “shrink dramatically” once the bridge is removed, according to Alexander.
“Once the bridge is out of the way and the first few rows of (ashlar) blocks are out, we should be able to move … half our operation into the railroad corridor, so we’re not in front of the businesses on the Battell Block side,” Alexander said.
Among the affected businesses will be Town Hall Theater, downtown Middlebury’s performing and visual arts center. Work can be scheduled in a way that doesn’t interrupt performances with noise and other impacts, Alexander said.
“We would certainly be looking to meet with the affected businesses and try to work together with them to try to minimize the additional impacts that would be caused by this, to work around their schedules,” he said.
Middlebury selectboard members acknowledged early closure of Merchants Row will pose an added inconvenience, but they agreed with Alexander’s rationale for the work, which they endorsed through a unanimous vote.
“I appreciate you continuing to work to find a solution on this and figuring out how you can quickly shrink that footprint to sustain parking to the maximum extent possible,” selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said. “Obviously you’ll continue to work at it and give us the best solution you can.”
Selectman Nick Artim said he believed crews have done a “phenomenal” job with preliminary work on the project, including undergrounding utilities, installing a drainage system for the rail bed and building a temporary access road to the Battle Block parking lot. Artim said that early work has given him confidence that future phases of the project can be performed well.
“You’re the professionals,” he told Alexander. “If this is what you say we have to do, then this is what we have to do.
Meanwhile, VTrans Project Manager Jon Griffin said the state is continuing negotiations with owners of the final three properties on which right of ways are needed to build the project. He expects those negotiations to be successful.
“I’m optimistic everything is moving on time and on schedule, and hopefully on budget,” Griffin said.
In other action on Tuesday, the selectboard endorsed a variety of engineering contracts advanced by the town’s Infrastructure Committee. The board also heard from proponents of a townwide ban on single-use plastic bags, an issue that will be discussed at the annual town meeting on March 4. Supporters have successfully petitioned a Town Meeting Day referendum asking residents to encourage the selectboard to craft an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags for carrying out purchases from local businesses. The Independent will feature a more complete report on that referendum next week.
How will closing Merchants Row three weeks early affect businesses, residents and visitors?
•   Periodic noise.
•   Suspension of one-way traffic.
•   Temporary loss of “a few” parking spaces on both sides of the road.
•   Pedestrians must walk through the town green to get from Merchants Row to Main Street (and vice versa) while the bridge is out.

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