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Selectmen seek funds for Middlebury bridge

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October 4, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen have hired a consulting team to uncover creative financing options for a new in-town bridge project that officials hope could be built before the end of this decade.

The consulting team of RKG Associates and McFarland-Johnson will spend the coming weeks looking at revenue sources to finance as much as $10 million of the estimated $16 million price tag of the project. The project would involve building a new bridge linking Main Street to Court Street via Cross Street, across the Otter Creek in downtown Middlebury.

If things go as scheduled, selectmen will have financing information in hand — along with some recommendations — in time for the 2008 town meeting next March.

“We really have as a goal to get something done within the next couple of years,” said Selectman Dean George, chairman of Middlebury’s in-town bridge committee. “We know that’s ambitious.”

Town officials are working with a rough estimate of $16 million for the in-town bridge project, including $9.9 million for the actual bridge. The balance of funds would be needed for associated intersection, parking and road improvements.

“This is a rough number, but it has helped us focus on what the (project) segments might cost,” George said.

McFarland-Johnson and RKG Associates will focus on creative financing options for individual segments of the project. Creative financing will be necessary, George stressed, as townspeople will not be able to float a bond for the entire $16 million. Middlebury officials also are eyeing alternative revenue streams (other than property taxes and state aid) as a way to bypass the state’s long and cumbersome capital projects list. Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) officials have already served notice to Middlebury that it may be a decade or more before an in-town bridge project can move through the state’s construction schedule. Town officials don’t believe Middlebury can wait that long, noting the looming replacement of two railroad overpasses that could create traffic nightmares in the village if there is no in-town span to divert vehicles.

Members of the Middlebury’s in-town bridge committee believe the high end of the town’s end bonding capacity, over 30 years, would be $5 million to $6 million. That means RKG Associates and McFarland-Johnson will need to find the remaining $10 million to do the project. Potential revenue sources include grants, local option taxes and “tax increment financing.”

“We know we can’t do this totally on our own,” George said. “But we know we can do this project a lot cheaper if we don’t have to go through the state and federal bureaucracies to accomplish this. A lot of the work has already been done.”

George is optimistic the town will have a report from RKG and McFarland-Johnson within three months, which would allow selectmen to give town meeting voters an update — and possibly a project recommendation — by next March.

“We can decide, at that point, if we can do (the project),” George said.

In the meantime, the in-town bridge committee has completed the property appraisals for land that would need to be acquired within the project right of way. The panel has initiated discussions with the major property owners — including Steele’s Service Center — in an effort to acquire the right of first refusal to buy needed real estate, should it come up for sale.

“Our goal is to acquire these properties in a way that is not adversarial,” George said.

Middlebury’s success in going solo on an in-town project could have some far reaching implications.

“We could be sort of a prototype for what may be happening in other communities throughout the state if this is successful,” George said.

For now, town officials want to keep up the momentum for the bridge project.

“We need to keep people involved in this and not go back to starting over again, which tends to happen if you let a project linger for years and not get back to it,” George said.

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