Big paving projects put on hold in Vergennes & Bristol
BRISTOL/VERGENNES — Repaving of the main arteries in Addison County’s second and third largest villages, work that had been set to start as soon as next week, has been postponed.
The news came in late afternoon email on Wednesday from Natalie Boyle, spokesperson for resurfacing projects that include most of Routes 17 and 116 in Bristol village and all of Route 22A in Vergennes.
It included a statement from the Vermont Agency of Transportation that said now the soonest the projects could start is mid-April. The two projects have the same contractor, J. Hutchins Inc.
The statement read:
“Pursuant to the ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order from Gov. Scott on March 24, effective Wednesday, March 25, at 5 p.m. the Secretary of the Agency of Transportation is ordering the safe and orderly shutdown of all construction projects that are not deemed critical to the public health, safety, or national security.
“This will apply to nearly all projects currently under construction or planned to commence with the start of the construction season. The shutdown will be in effect until at least April 15th and may be extended by a future addendum to this order by Gov. Scott.”
In Vergennes the contractor and VTrans had just decided to change the project schedule to do the most disruptive downtown work in early April, when most businesses are expected to remain closed. City officials had welcomed that recommendation, which had been expected to become official by the end of this week.
Now it is unclear when the two paving projects will start. Asked to provide some clarity, Boyle said, “There is quite a bit of flux right now and as a result there don’t seem to be concrete answers yet. I’d keep checking AOT websites/press releases and/or the Governor’s office for the most accurate and up-to-date information.”
The Bristol paving project will begin on Route 116 in Bristol near the intersection of Airport Road at mile marker 6.006 then run north for 1.230 miles and end at Class I/State Highway limit at mile marker 7.263 in Bristol. This is part of a multi-year effort by VTrans to pave Route 116 from Route 7 in Middlebury to Starksboro village.
The $2.66 million, 2.75-mile paving project through the heart of Vergennes will resurface the road along Main Street and two side streets.
Agency of Transportation officials and contractors last week approached city officials and offered to grind up existing pavement in downtown Vergennes and apply the first coat of asphalt starting in early April and finishing by late May.
Vergennes leaders said they welcomed the timetable to do the work on that stretch, which was originally scheduled for this summer, sooner while business activity is lower because of COVID-19 fears and social distancing.
The new timetable would allow the most disruptive work to be completed before city businesses can hopefully again open their doors this summer, and a VTrans email also noted the agency expected “vehicular traffic to be at a minimum” in April and May. Officials have also said downtown paving could mostly be done at night to minimize the project’s impact.
Before the delay in starting the project was announced Wednesday, Mayor Jeff Fritz said the schedule change would work much better for business owners hoping to re-open this summer, given downtown commerce is now coming to a halt due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s the perfect time for us,” Fritz said. “Folks are shuttering their doors as we speak. Why not take advantage of that opportunity to get the project done? Especially since we’re looking at a pretty dirty and messy project to begin with. Grinding is not going to be pleasant.”
The change, which City Manager Daniel Hofman said he had expected to be confirmed by the end of the week, could — at least theoretically — also allow the city’s Memorial Day parade to be held as scheduled.
City officials have insisted the schedule not interfere with the state’s largest Memorial Day parade, which can draw 10,000 viewers to Vergennes. But now they said they are by no means sure, given the coronavirus crisis, that Vergennes could or should host the parade.
“Personally, given the information we have today, it would not seem prudent to move forward with the parade,” Fritz said. “Our neighbors to the west are shutting things down pretty dramatically, which I think is wise.”
Hofman said he believed the state issues the largest of the permits for the parade, but he believed Vergennes probably had the authority to call off the parade if state officials didn’t do so.
But given the major level of organization that Vergennes Legion Post 14 and others put forth to stage the event, Fritz said a decision might be coming due. And that was before the start of the project was delayed until an undetermined date.