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Middlebury rail platform nearing completion

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS get ready to pour the concrete for the new passenger rail platform off Middle Seymour Street in Middlebury this week. The new platform will serve riders of an upcoming Ethan Allen Express train running from Burlington to Rutland and linking to New York City. Independent photo/ Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — Construction on Middlebury’s new rail platform off Middle Seymour Street is expected to wrap by Aug. 31, in anticipation of Amtrak passenger train service to Burlington beginning next spring.

Kubricky Construction workers have spent the past several weeks excavating the Middlebury platform site and are now tending to the biggest components of the job — installation of the 300-foot deck and a 200-foot canopy, with lighting. Once completed, the platform will accommodate passengers for Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express train, which currently travels from New York City to Rutland, via Albany, N.Y., and Castleton, Vt. The service will be extended north, from Rutland to Burlington’s Union Station, with stops in Middlebury and Vergennes.

The Vergennes stop will be at a newly remodeled train depot and new platform at the Ferrisburgh Park and Ride near the intersection of Routes 22A and 7.

Bob Rossi of GPI/Greenman-Pederson is the on-site inspector for the Middlebury passenger platform project. During an interview at the project site, Rossi gave a sense of how the work has gone since it kicked off in March.

“Things have been moving along on schedule,” he said. “But there are always issues on any contract that need to be ironed out with the original designer.”

Among the few curveballs thrown at the project was the discovery of old sewer and water lines.

“No one wants to just leave those, they need to be taken out and then backfilled properly,” he said.

As of late last week, workers were prepping the site for pouring the concrete platform during the second week in July. Then it has to cure for a week.

Once the concrete is stable, the prefabricated steel supports for the canopy will be delivered, around the end of this month.

Finally, the electrical work.

“It will be well-lit, on a timer,” Rossi said.

Other platform amenities will include benches and an lift for people with mobility problems. Users will have access to more than a dozen long-term parking spots off Middle Seymour, which runs parallel to the tracks between Maple Street and Seymour Street near the underpass.

Rossi said the deck and canopy are being built to last for the next 100 years.

“It’s being well-engineered, well-built, and reinforced,” he said.

Workers were divided into several crews, each with a specialty, according to Rossi. For example, one crew tends to excavation, while another is in charge of the concrete. There are usually six to nine workers on site at any given time, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created shortages in steel and lumber, which have driven up construction costs. Asked if the passenger rail project would come in within budget, Rossi replied, “I hope so,” adding prices are now starting to go down.

SIDEWALK TO TOWN AND COLLEGE

Once the platform and canopy are completed, work will begin on a separate-but-related project led by the town of Middlebury. It involves construction of a sidewalk extension along Middle Seymour and Maple streets, from the Amtrak platform to Riverside Park, bordering the Otter Creek Falls. The estimated $180,000 ($90,000 state grant, $90,000 town match) undertaking will include 1,000 linear feet of new sidewalk, with 680 linear feet of curbing, crosswalk striping and truncated domes at pedestrian crossings.

Middlebury Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray said the new sidewalk will serve an anticipated bump in train-related pedestrian traffic, and fill the broader purpose of creating “a critical linkage in our downtown area, which is a goal in our municipal plan and regional plan.”

A hefty portion of Ethan Allen Express customers are expected to be Middlebury College faculty and students, and the sidewalk extension will help connect the campus to the new train stop, Murray noted.

“This proposed project follows the shortest (one mile) route between the platform and the Middlebury College campus and will bring visitors directly to the Marble Works and the memorable view of the falls at Otter Creek,” she said. “It (will) be a significant safety improvement and a well-used section of sidewalk for years to come.”

Town officials will make note of how well used the platform and related amenities are during the coming years, for possible adjustments. For example, if train ridership surges, the community might have to consider an overflow parking area, according to Murray.

“All the things that are happening are part of an intentional planning process,” she added.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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