MIDDLEBURY — Until recently, you had to travel down Cross Street or Bakery Lane to get visual confirmation of work on Middlebury’s new in-town bridge project.
But travelers along College Street last month received a rather abrupt signal that big changes are afoot. Seemingly overnight, five large, mature trees that bordered College Street in front of the Middlebury municipal building had suddenly disappeared.
Middlebury officials said the trees were cut in order to accommodate relocation of some power lines, a bi-product of the Cross Street Bridge project. Plans ultimately call for College Street to be made one way, with a reconfigured parking scheme.
Most of the roadwork — including a new roundabout intersection that will serve College, Main, South Main, Cross and Park streets and Bakery Lane — will begin next spring. The tree removal and utilities relocation on College Street will precede that work. Plans call for the $16 million Cross Street Bridge project to be completed in the fall of 2010.
Some passersby have voiced concerns about the loss of trees that once shaded the municipal building.
“We know that at least one person was upset at the loss of those trees, probably others were upset as well. It certainly is an abrupt change that people notice,” said selectboard chairman John Tenny.
“This should be an impetus for us to begin the planning process for a landscaping plan for the whole project — focusing on the little town green at the municipal building and the roundabout … is the right place to begin that plan,” Tenny added.
Not everyone has been upset about the recent “defoliation” in front of the municipal building, however.
“The comments that I have heard have been, ‘The municipal building is a pretty good looking building when you get to where you can see it now,’” Selectman Don Keeler said. “Maybe we ought to think about making it prettier and doing some of the things we need to do there.”
While the cutting of trees has opened up views of the municipal building, work on Cross Street and Bakery Lane has at least temporarily closed up parking and access to some local businesses — particularly Mister Ups Restaurant.
Restaurant Manager Vanessa Buck said the business, located a stone’s throw away from the new bridge site — was a virtual “island” on Sept. 2 due to the disruption and clutter of construction-related equipment and debris.
“No one could get in the door,” Buck said.
She also deplored what she said has been a lack of outreach from the town and construction team on work activities before they occur.
“We are finding out things at the last minute,” Buck said. “I have never been as disgusted with the town as I am at this moment. It makes me really sad.”
Buck added she is receiving phone calls and e-mails from both locals and out-of-staters asking if Mister Ups has closed. Some of those same people are also under the misimpression that a parking garage is included within the Cross Street Bridge project, she said. A parking garage has been cited as a possible part of an economic development initiative behind the Ilsley Library, but such a project is only hypothetical at this point.
“Of course (the bridge project) is inhibiting our business,” Buck said. “I pray we get through it.”
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger acknowledged some communication glitches between project coordinators and the restaurant. He said the lack of communication on Sept. 2 was particularly regrettable given extensive work done that day to relocate a storm drain.
Finger said the representative of Kubricky Construction had “underestimated the extent of work on the storm drain. It was an error of communication, and we apologize.”
Town officials said they realize affected businesses and their customers are going to feel the impacts as various phases of the Cross Street Bridge project are undertaken. The town has put up signs at the entrance of Cross Street reminding people that Mister Ups and other nearby businesses remain open for business.
“We are trying our best to minimize the disruption,” Finger said.
Workers continue to get the bridge site ready for a watershed event — the installation of the huge beams that will support the 240-foot-long center span of the Cross Street Bridge. In anticipation of that considerable feat, crews will have to construct a makeshift staging area in the Otter Creek from which center-span beams will be installed.
Selectmen recently learned that the center-span work will take place this November, which will put the project on pace for the completion goal of next fall.