By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY â€” Work crews soon will launch the first of what will be two of the busiest municipal construction seasons in Middleburyâ€™s history, with reconstruction of Seminary Street; replacement of water/sewer infrastructure along College Street; and installation of better signalization on Court Street highlighting this yearâ€™s projects.
â€œThe next few years will be kind of painful, but once weâ€™re done, we should be set for a couple of years,â€? Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner said.
Work is scheduled to get under way later this month, when Tom Vanacore & Co. of Bridport begins the last phase of masonry work on the Battell Bridge in downtown Middlebury. The company has already completed filling cracks between the large stone blocks that make up the bridgeâ€™s three massive arches. Crews this spring will perform the same kind of work on the bridge railings on both sides of Main Street.
Town officials said work will require closing the sidewalk on one side of the bridge at a time.
Signs will warn people of the work and inform them to use crosswalks to get across Main Street to the portion of sidewalk that is open, according to Werner.
Downtown shoppers and residents will also notice fresh crosswalk markings that should be more resilient.
Werner said crews will use a â€œhot tapeâ€? material, rather than mere paint, that will be melted onto the asphalt on downtown crosswalks.
â€œIt should give it a little longer life through the season,â€? Werner said. â€œThis stuff is thicker and more resistant to traffic.â€?
Beginning in mid-May, crews will begin reconstruction of Seminary Street, from North Pleasant Street to Springside Road. Storm drains will be replaced and surface drainage will be improved before the entire street is repaved.
The project price tag has been placed at $370,000, with the state covering $150,000 of the costs.
â€œThere will be times when the whole street is closed to through-traffic,â€? Werner said.
He stressed that access will be granted to Seminary Street residents throughout the project, expected to last five weeks.
While large, the Seminary Street project will not hold a candle to the two-year, $925,000 makeover of College Street that will begin this summer.
This yearâ€™s phase of work will involve replacing water, sewer and storm drain infrastructure along portions of the street, ranging from its intersection with Main Street to where the state highway begins at the western base of the hill that leads to the Middlebury College campus on Route 125.
Workers will pave over construction trenches when the new infrastructure is laid. Next summer, phase two of the project will get under way. That will involve complete repaving of Main Street and College Street.
Werner warned that construction this summer will cause some periodic headaches for commuters.
â€œThe section (of College Street) between Main Street and Weybridge Street will have to be closed at times,â€? Werner said.
He added officials will take pains to minimize disruption during peak traffic hours. But he encouraged motorists to seek out alternative routes during construction, estimated to take 90 days.
â€œWe would like people to use Storrs Avenue to get from Main Street to Route 125,â€? Werner said. â€œIt would be easier.â€?
Middlebury selectmen are anticipating bids in mid-May for a new computer-controlled signal system that will control traffic lights from Court Square to The Centre shopping plaza on Court Street Extension. The $1.3 million project, to be paid for with federal funds, will also include upgrades to crosswalks â€” and related pedestrian â€œwalkâ€? signals â€” along busy Court Street.
Officials explained the new signals will have â€œloop detectorsâ€? at side streets that will change lights only when vehicles are present, rather than the current system of fixed cycles. As a result, traffic is expected to move in a more coordinated and orderly fashion.
Werner said crews are expected to lay the bases for the new signal masts this year. The new signal heads are to be put in place next year.
Other public works projects slated for this spring and summer include:
â€¢ Repairs to Lower Plains Bridge on Lower Plains Road. Repairs will focus on the abutment and wing walls of the span.
â€¢ $100,000 worth of new shim and overlay work for High Street; Washington Street Extension; Woodland Park; the east end of Meadow Way; Wilmar Street; Cones Road; Maple Street; and â€” funds permitting â€” a section of North Branch Road.
â€¢ Culvert replacement along Three Mile Bridge Road east of Halladay Road. The town has received a $15,300 grant through the Vermont Agency of Transportation to do a majority of the work.
The town received additional state grant money to replace a 42-inch culvert on Blake Roy Road, according to Werner.
Officials acknowledged there will be times when downtown drivers will be clenching their steering wheels with white knuckles.
â€œI think it will try peoplesâ€™ patience,â€? Werner said.
But in the end, people and their vehicles will be better off, according to Werner.
The Middlebury Business Association (MBA) and town staff have already begun to inform downtown business owners about the upcoming road projects, so they and their customers can be prepared.
Gail Freidin, coordinator of the MBA, said she has e-mailed the news to many downtown business owners, and recently delivered 800 reminders that will be included in an upcoming Addison County Chamber of Commerce newsletter.
Freidin said her phone hasnâ€™t been ringing off the hook, thus far. But she anticipates some mounting concerns as the projects â€” particularly the one on College Street â€” get going.
â€œItâ€™s one less road to carry all the traffic,â€? Freidin said.