Middlebury considers the future of Creek Road
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard will soon invite public feedback on a new report suggesting four options for fixing flood-damaged Creek Road. Options range from spending around $4.9 million to reopen the road from Route 7 to Three Mile Bride Road, to $671,563 to make the most dire repairs up to the Bingham property, where Creek Road would stay closed to vehicular traffic.
Local engineer Peter DeGraff presented the four options to the Middlebury selectboard Tuesday night. It’s the first step in picking a repair plan for Creek Road, which was closed to through traffic during the spring of 2015 after some large sections of its pavement surrendered to the forces of the adjacent Otter Creek. Creek Road is closed by a gate near the site of the former Three Mile Bridge (which is approximately 2 miles northwest of the intersection of Three Mile Bridge Road and Route 7). It currently serves four homes and gives three farms access to their respective crop fields.
The road closure has presented an inconvenience to those who reside there, as well as to those who had grown accustomed to using it as a bypass. But the absence of through traffic has been a boon to hikers, joggers and cyclists.
Officials have spent the past four years looking at ways to fix the road, which will be an expensive proposition that could require a bond vote. At the same time, the selectboard has been researching the prospect of permanently closing the road and either downgrading or abandoning a portion of it. The town’s recreation facility, the Addison County Transit Resources headquarters, and the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Middlebury maintenance garage are all located on Creek Road, though on a paved, stable section close to Route 7 on the northern end of Creek Road.
The selectboard in 2017 commissioned Pathways Consulting Inc. to evaluate a series of repair scenarios for Creek Road. The Pathways report presented four repair options, ranging in price from $1.47 million (stabilizing the most flood-prone banks of Otter Creek and repairing the most damaged 12,400 feet of the road, including related drainage and ditching), to $530,000 to fix the worst 12,400 feet of the road, including resurfacing, fabric stabilization, new and existing drainage improvements, and ditching.
Town officials asked DeGraff to evaluate the Pathways study and update it with 2019 numbers. His numbers, it should be noted, reflect upfront capital costs and annual costs maintenance costs that are converted to 2019 values. The sum of these two components reflects the present value of each alternative.
Here are the options DeGraff presented on Tuesday:
1. Open the entire, 2.6-mile length of the road from Route 7 to 3 Mile Bridge and make what DeGraff described as “proactive” and “comprehensive improvements,” including stream bank stabilization measures to all areas within 25 feet of Otter Creek and associated roadway upgrades that include Pathways’ recommendations, as well as guardrails and installation of a box culvert replacement. Cost: Around $4.9 million.
2. Open the road from Route 7 to 3 Mile Bridge after gradual, phased-in repairs. This alternative includes stream bank stabilization for all segments currently failing and associated roadway repairs as recommended by Pathways, guardrails and box culvert replacement. The projected cost of $4.6 million includes future stream bank stabilization for all remaining road segments within 25 feet of the Creek — prorated over the 10-year analysis period — and regular road maintenance.
DeGraff factored in a 3-percent annual increase in construction costs.
3. Open the road from Route 7 in the village to the Perrins’ property in a phased manner. This alternative includes stream bank stabilization for all segments north of the road-closing that are currently failing, and associated roadway repairs as recommended by Pathways. It also includes guardrails. Projected cost of $2.8 million includes future stream bank stabilization for all open road segments within 25 feet of the Creek, prorated over the 10-year analysis period, as well as regular road maintenance. The road would be closed from the Perrins’ to 3 Mile Bridge, with no capital improvements and restricted access.
4. Open the road from Route 7/Court Street to Bingham Farm, again using a phased-in approach, using the same repair guideline as option 3. This option would also require a new access driveway to the Perrins’ home, built through the adjacent South Ridge development. The road would be closed from the Binghams’ to 3 Mile Bridge with no capital improvements and restricted access. Cost: Around $671,000.
Options 3 and 4 don’t include additional costs for any upgrades the town might choose to make to the portion of Creek Road from where it is gated, to Three Mill Bridge Road.
“What happens to the balance of Creek Road is a matter of further discussion by the board,” DeGraff said. “I would imagine the board is going to want to keep the right of way.”
He believes the unimproved portion of the road could still be used for passive recreation.
“There’s a relatively sound gravel base there,” DeGraff said. “I think it could be used safely by people on a regular basis for a number of years, though it depends on what the river does and how extensively it erodes.”
Selectboard members were surprised by the magnitude of the Creek Road repair costs. While the town salts away money for looming road projects, it doesn’t have a pot of money from which to pay for a multi-million dollar project. That means bonding, which in turn leads to higher property taxes.
Selectwoman Heather Seeley, who chairs the town’s infrastructure committee and has a background in construction, was particularly shocked by the price tags. She suggested the price that DeGraff has assigned to stream bank stabilization — $480 per linear foot — might be higher than what the current market will command. Pathways had projected $150 per linear foot back in 2017. That lower estimate, if applied to the DeGraff scope of work, would lower option 1 to $2.1 million and option 2 to around $2 million.
DeGraff pointed to bids that came in for a similar stabilization project on Shard Villa Road in 2015, where the bids that came in ranged from $424 per foot, to a high of more than $800 per foot.
“I came up with an average of $480 that I used in my numbers,” he said.
Seeley believes the town could find a better deal.
“I would say that the Shard Villa project costs are much higher than what needs to be done on Creek Road,” Seeley said. “So I’m going to respectfully disagree with that number.”
She said the Pathways report suggested “layered, terraced design with riparian buffer” for the stream bank stabilization work. Seeley said she doesn’t believe the Creek Road repair requires that substantial a fix.
Seeley also questioned whether the town could legally use public funds to build a private driveway to the Perrin household, if option 3 were picked. And taking such a step for the Perrins could set a precedent for making the same accommodation for other Creek Road property owners, she said.
“If we’re going to close the road, then we’re preventing every property owner on that road… access to their property, and if we’re going to choose to build a private drive for one, then I think we should consider it for all,” Seeley said.
Former Selectwoman Susan Shashok said she developed an appreciation, as a resident and elected official, for the many ways people use Creek Road. She said she didn’t like the idea of barring access to portions of the road.
“Everyone who lives on that road has struggled with this issue and it’s not so far different than East Middlebury, where we’re looking at our infrastructure and the Middlebury River and how we’re going to deal with that in the future,” Shashok said.
Hank Nop farms property off Creek Road. He’d like to have better access to the fields, but is also concerned about the repair costs.
“The taxes are high enough in Middlebury,” he said.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay had proposed holding a June 25 public meeting on the Creek Road repair options. But Creek Road residents want time to prepare their own presentation, so the meeting date and venue will be announced at a later date.
Creek Road resident Mark Perrin will be among those attending.
“I want people to enjoy it, but I also want to get to my house,” Perrin said.
“Let’s be mindful the pace of deterioration has increased over the past six years,” he added.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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