By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) will pave Middlebury’s Main Street next year at night — while taking Friday and Saturday evenings off — in deference to downtown merchants and restaurant owners who feared the project could cripple their businesses.
Mark Woolaver, the AOT’s paving project manager, confirmed the scheduling adjustments last week after a meeting with Middlebury town officials and business leaders. Locals had feared tremendous economic and traffic repercussions from the downtown Middlebury leg of next year’s scheduled repaving of parts of Routes 7, 30 and 125.
The $2.5 million project will require lane closings and traffic diversions that merchants feared would steer shoppers away from local businesses.
“We don’t want a beautifully repaved Main Street with three or four stores out of business,” said Nancie Dunn, owner of the Sweet Cecily store and a member of the Middlebury Business Association board.
Dunn and other business owners have pointed to several recent business casualties on Shelburne Road in Chittenden County as evidence of the impact roadwork can have on retailers. They don’t want that scene repeated in Middlebury, where merchants say every dime of revenue is critical during a shopping season that largely extends from late May through Christmas.
“It’s a six-month season for most of us on Main Street,” Dunn said. “We need to make hay while the sun shines.”
The economic sun will be allowed to shine on Middlebury, according to a paving schedule that calls for work to take place from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the project kicks off next May, according to Woolaver.
“We will write it into the contract,” Woolaver said.
The AOT will also stipulate that work cannot occur on Friday and Saturday nights, in an effort to minimize impacts on downtown restaurants like Eat Good Food, located in the Battell Block.
Nighttime work will probably cost the state more money than a straightforward, daytime paving contract, but it’s a concession the AOT has made in the past.
“I think, as it stands, we have a perfect opportunity for success,” Woolaver said.
Plans call for the AOT to advertise the paving project on March 7. That would lead to the contract being awarded around the end of March, with construction starting in early May.
If everything proceeds smoothly, Woolaver said the downtown Middlebury portion of the project could be finished by late May or early June.
“It is all weather-dependant,” Woolaver added. “We hope to have the entire project wrapped up by late June, or early July.”
Paving work on Routes 125 and 30 will start at the north end of Main Street will end at the Cornwall town line both roads. But the nighttime paving will be limited to Main Street from the Congregational Church to the municipal building.
The parts of Route 7 that will be repaved are south of the village from Creek Road to Monroe Street, then around Court Square, then along North Pleasant Street to its intersection with High Street.
Local merchants are pleased with what has been encouraging news thus far from the AOT.
“I think (the AOT) is trying to work with the town,” Dunn said. “Next, we have to make sure (the project) happens the way we discussed it would happen.”