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Downtown Midd rail project resumes next week

MIDDLEBURY — “Here’s the news we’ve been waiting for.” 
That was the happy message from Jim Gish this week when he passed on word that the work on the huge downtown Middlebury rail project would resume after a six-week COVID-19 hiatus. 
Construction workers should return early next week to the worksite that stretches through the heart of the shire town, said Gish, Middlebury’s community liaison for the project. An initial group of 15 or so will be required to wear masks and gloves, as well as practice social distancing. Plus there will be a COVID-19 health officer onsite.
Hiring that health officer was one thing that moved back resumption of work from initial estimates of late this week to early next. 
The six-week interruption in work has meant that the critical 10-week period of intense work that will close much of downtown this summer will not begin as originally scheduled on May 27. Gish said the start of that intense work may not be delayed a full six weeks, but it was too soon to give an estimate. 
The estimate for completion of the summer work and opening of downtown roads was also tentative. Everyone “hopes” it will be completed by Labor Day, Gish said.
“Everyone was agreed on that date, but knows that we will learn things as the work rolls out,” he said.
Among the first tasks to resume will be:
•  Completing installation of the steel sheeting at the north end of the project near the at-level rail crossing just before County Tire.
•  Resuming delivery of the 422 pieces of precast concrete that will make up the rail tunnel. The huge pieces are coming from Fort Miller’s plant in New York to the marshaling yard at Fifield Farm off Route 30 south of Middlebury. Gish says fabrication of all of the pieces is almost complete.
•  Installing lagging alongside the Battell Block upper driveway.
•  Continuing the drainage system work between the bridges.
Gish said that management at the Vermont Agency of Transportation have been strong advocates for restarting the project, which is the first construction project in Vermont with out-of-state workers allowed to resume operations.
He had special praise for local municipal officials. 
“Our getting the green light at this time is directly the result of your town leadership team’s vigorous and persistent advocacy for getting back to work in order to minimize the impact on Middlebury as we recover from the pandemic’s impact,” he said.
The next big milestone that passersby should notice — other than the return of 15 workers — is the arrival of a 300-ton crane, which will be set up in Triangle Park next month, Gish said. The crane will lift the concrete tunnel sections into place.
He looks forward to seeing the laborers back on the rail bed next week.
“A focus will be on making up time,” Gish said.

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