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Proposed Middlebury bridge comes into focus

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BY JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury citizens last Wednesday got a chance to see the first conceptual designs of a proposed Cross Street bridge that town officials hope will be in place before winter of 2010.

The plans were unveiled on Feb. 13 in the municipal gym during an informational meeting at which town officials vastly outnumbered citizens on a rainy, slushy evening.

Despite the dismal turnout at the meeting, selectmen are hoping residents become intimately familiar with the plans before they cast ballots on Town Meeting Day on a $16 million plan to build the bridge as a link between Main Street and Court Street over the Otter Creek via Cross Street. The project — which would include a roundabout intersection at Main and Cross streets — would receive $9 million in funding from Middlebury College. Town officials would like to bankroll the remaining $7 million in costs through local option taxes on meals, rooms, sales and alcohol sold in Middlebury.

Plans call for a four-company team to take the project through design, permitting and construction. This differs from the more time-consuming tack taken by other Vermont communities that must rely on state and federal aid. That process, selectmen explained, requires more cumbersome coordination through state and federal bureaucracies that can add years to a project.

Since Middlebury is proposing to finance its project almost exclusively through a donation from the college and local option taxes, this means fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

Middlebury’s bridge design-build team consists of Kubricky Construction Corp., GeoDesign Inc., J.P. Carrara & Sons and VHB Pioneer. All four firms have a presence in the region; and only J.P. Carrara — which has a background in manufacturing pre-cast concrete bridges — is based in Middlebury.

Mark A. Colgan, director of transportation for VHB Pioneer, said a design-build process could net Middlebury its bridge in less than two years, while the more conventional process can take upwards of seven years.

“The end result is that you get traffic on the bridge much sooner,” Colgan said.

Colgan on Wednesday shared the first conceptual plans for the proposed Cross Street bridge.

The structure would feature three 164-foot span segments — the first going east from Main Street over Bakery Lane; the second spanning the Otter Creek; and the third spanning the Vermont Railway tracks. There would be abutments and retaining walls at each end of the 492-foot span, which would be buttressed by a series of pre-stressed concrete girders. It would feature an eight-inch concrete deck and three inches of pavement.

“Some of the advantages of this design is that it is low-maintenance concrete,” Colgan said. “It requires no maintenance for many, many years.

“It’s a very attractive structure,” he added. “It’s constructed with local materials by local firms and it is the most cost-effective structure we could come up with, as a team.”

There would be two piers on the creek channel.

The span would feature 11-foot-wide travel lanes that would be bordered by four-foot-wide shoulders. Both sides of the bridge would be endowed with a five-foot-wide sidewalk. The town could adorn both sides of the bridge with a basic steel railing, or a more robust, decorative version made of concrete. Middlebury could light the bridge using the same kind of historic fixtures it has installed in its downtown.

Colgan noted the design team considered a roman-arch design similar to that of the nearby Battell Bridge on Middlebury’s Main Street, but the soils and bedrock in the Cross Street/Court Street area simply could not support such a span, he said.

Still, builders could add some artistic flourishes to the proposed concrete bridge façade to give it more of a historic, village feel, according to Colgan.

If the project is approved by Middlebury voters on Town Meeting Day, the design team and the community will come up with a final design that will be submitted to local, state and federal permitting agencies. The project will require, among other things, a stormwater permit and stream alteration permit. It will need to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and be cleared by the state as having no negative impacts on endangered species and architectural/historic sites and artifacts.

When and if the project crosses all of those permitting hurdles, construction crews would first put in a series of cofferdams — temporary, watertight enclosures that are pumped dry to expose the bottom of the creek so that construction of the bridge abutments and piers can start. Once the piers are up, the pre-stressed concrete girders would be put in place, followed by the bridge deck, railings and lighting.

Selectboard Chairman John Tenny said estimates show the current bridge plan would fit within the available budget. The town is banking on total project cost of $16 million, which would include property acquisition, the Main Street roundabout, related road improvements, engineering and actual construction. The bridge itself is expected to cost between $9 million and $10 million, town officials said.

Having a design-build approach, Colgan said, will allow the project to be refined along the way to trim costs in the event of a budget crunch. At the same time, any cost-savings in materials will be passed on to the town — something he said doesn’t always happen when projects go through a conventional bidding process.

“This is a conceptual design,” Colgan said. “These things can change with input from ... the public, the selectboard and the bridge committee to determine what is the preferred alternative for the community,” Colgan said. “But this is the starting point.”

Selectman Dean George, chairman of the town’s bridge committee, said he is optimistic the town can get a good project before the end of 2010 if voters give their OK on March 4.

“We have said all along that this is an ambitious timeline, but we think it can be done in this timeframe,” George said.

Selectmen have scheduled another informational meeting about the project for Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., in the municipal gym. This meeting will focus on bridge financing, and specifically the local option taxes that voters will need to endorse to help pay off the 30-year, $16 million project bond. Selectmen will invite to the Feb. 21 meeting representatives of other communities that have implemented local option taxes.

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