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Middlebury rail project comes in on budget

CONSTRUCTION OF THIS Middlebury passenger rail platform and the downtown rail tunnel project have been completed within budget, according to Vermont Agency of Transportation officials. The tunnel construction cost $72 million, plus nearly $20 million for engineering and other costs. The platform cost a mere $1.5 million.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

MIDDLEBURY — The approximately four-year makeover of Middlebury’s twin downtown rail bridges into a 360-foot-long tunnel stayed within the forecasted $72 million construction budget, Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) officials reported last week.

The overall state/federal commitment to the Middlebury project comes in at $91.5 million, when one includes engineering and other associated costs related to what was one of the largest downtown transportation ventures ever coordinated by VTrans.

There was no local share attached to this project, according to VTrans Project Manager Jonathan Griffin.

The overall undertaking was divided into seven distinct projects, Griffin explained, beginning in 2017 with the demolition of the two 1920s-era bridges that stretched over the railroad on Merchants Row and Main Street. Those bridges were replaced by temporary spans.

The other distinct projects included installation of a drainage system for the rail bed; construction of the actual tunnel, which included a 10-week closure of Main Street and Merchants Row during the summer of 2020; and what Griffin described as a series of “capital improvements on VTrans-owned rail infrastructure necessary to support the detour of (freight) trains for the 10-week closure.”

Kubricky Construction was general contractor for the project.

Total construction costs for all seven capital improvements will end up being $72 million, “which is consistent with VTrans expected construction costs,” according to Griffin. Engineering for all those projects will end up costing $4.4 million, and right of way costs will total $14.8 million — which includes major acquisitions in downtown Middlebury and the costs of detouring rail traffic around downtown Middlebury, according to Griffin.

He cited another $300,000 in expenses associated with compensating utility companies for relocating their infrastructure away from the project.

All costs related to the project are being shared by the state of Vermont and the Federal Highway Administration (known as the FHWA), Griffin noted, with the funding split varying slightly by phase, he said. For example, the engineering costs were split 80% FHWA and 20% VTrans. The construction costs were split 95% FHWA and 5% VTrans.

While the pandemic created extra timeline challenges for the Middlebury tunnel project, it didn’t affect the bottom line, according to VTrans. Contractors had locked in prices prior to the pandemic, which created supply-side financial headaches for others in the construction industry.

“We did have delays associated with the pandemic, which were due to the seven-week shutdown of the state of Vermont in the spring of 2020,” Griffin said. “There were no escalations provided to any bid prices as a result of supply chain issues.”

PASSENGER RAIL

VTrans was indeed busy in Middlebury this year — not only with the tunnel project, but also with the siting of a new passenger rail platform located off middle Seymour Street, near the north entrance to the Marble Works complex.

Built by Kubricky Construction, the Middlebury rail platform includes a 300-foot deck and a 200-foot canopy, with lighting. It 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.

Rail officials told the Independent last month that the expanded Ethan Allen Express service is expected to start early next summer.

Griffin stressed the Middlebury passenger rail platform is separate from the tunnel project, and it’s being funded by the Federal Railroad Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Cost of the platform project, according to Griffin: $243,000 in engineering, and $1.3 million in construction. Those figures don’t include the town of Middlebury’s separate, $200,000 outlay for a nearby, 17-space parking area that will serve train riders.

Also in the works: 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 would include 1,000 feet of new sidewalk, with 680 feet of curbing, crosswalk striping and truncated domes at pedestrian crossings.

State officials are pleased to put the tunnel and platform projects to bed.

“We are very proud of the collaboration and dedication by so many important parties to achieve such a monumental outcome,” said VTrans Chief Engineer Ann Gammell. “It is a true testament to the hard work invested.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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