Rail tunnel workers wait for COVID tests
Every project we’re doing there has been deemed ‘essential.’ The restrictions we are encountering (in Middlebury) are being imposed by Vermont, not New York.
— Mark Alexander, Kubricky Construction
MIDDLEBURY — Kubricky Construction has put 10 employees back to work on the downtown Middlebury rail bridges project, but a company representative told the town selectboard on Tuesday that progress on the massive job will be slow until the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Gov. Phil Scott are able to loosen coronavirus-related restrictions on construction work.
Kubricky Vice President of Construction Mark Alexander delivered that message to the Middlebury selectboard at its virtual meeting held through Zoom. He reported workers are doing some of the preliminary work that will precede replacement of the Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges with a 360-foot-long concrete tunnel. That major job — which will require Vermont Rail to detour train traffic around Middlebury for around 10 weeks — was due to begin later this month.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced planners to revise short-term plans and expectations for the $72 million project that will to spill into 2021. Only VTrans and Scott can expedite the project schedule at this point.
“Right now, the rules in Vermont are that you’re allowed 10 people on-site, total,” Alexander told the board. “When we creep over that number of people, it triggers some other requirements, one of them being COVID testing for employees. So we have reached out, going on about two weeks, trying to get our hands on some COVID tests. The latest is, they’ll probably come in on May 18.”
At that point, Kubricky would be allowed up to 15 of its out-of-state workers to join the Middlebury crew, according to Alexander.
Those workers, according to Alexander, will stay in the area for an initial 14-day run, as state health officials don’t want them commuting back and forth to Middlebury. Absent the COVID-related restrictions, Kubricky would have had around 30 people on the Middlebury job right now, Alexander noted.
“We’re kind of slowly getting back to work here,” he said.
Vermont has been maintaining stricter regulations than neighboring New York when it comes to construction work during the pandemic, according to Alexander. Kubricky has been able to work without interruption on its Empire State projects, he told the board.
“We are actually operating at full capacity in New York,” he said. “Every project we’re doing there has been deemed ‘essential.’ The restrictions we are encountering are being imposed by Vermont, not New York.”
Kubricky had earmarked half of its resources for this summer’s work on Middlebury project.
“So it’s absolutely critical that we jump into this and execute as soon as possible for a lot of different reasons… not only for the benefit of the town, but for the benefit of our company, at this point,” he said.
Right now it’s a waiting game, with the few Kubricky workers on-site taking on smaller jobs.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” he said. “Every Friday, there’s been a slight change in the governor’s position. So we’re hoping as we get closer to the end of the week, we may get a little more relaxation that will allow us to put more resources on the job. But as it stands now, the only work we’re able to perform with the crew size we have is some pile work with Maine Drill & Blast.”
If COVID tests are forthcoming and the state loosens construction restrictions and more workers are allowed to be brought in, Alexander said Kubricky will be able to “move forward with getting the Merchants Row bridge out and continue on with our schedule.”
That schedule will include massing pre-caste concrete segments of the new tunnel at the Fifield Farm, just south of Middlebury Village.
Alexander estimates the tunnel project could get under way in early to mid-July, if he’s able to mobilize more workers during the coming weeks and have a full staff on board around Memorial Day.
“I wish we had better news,” he told the board.
Selectman Nick Artim pledged the board’s support in getting the job back on track. The work is expected to cause temporary headaches and hardships for commuters, residents and merchants, but in the end will produce a more sturdy rail conduit that will at the same time result in an expanded Triangle Park and other downtown improvements.
The pandemic is already affecting commerce throughout the town, state, country and globe.
“Thanks for the effort,” Artim told Alexander. “It’s obviously important to all of us. We’ve all been handed a tough hand to play, so we trust you will do the best you can. If there’s anything we can do as a board to help out… just let us know. We’re all on board to get this finished.”
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