Builders set timetable for intense rail tunnel construction in Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — More than five years in the making, the new downtown Middlebury rail tunnel began taking shape as workers on Monday kicked off a comparatively brief 10-week period of intense building.
Tunnel progress will be measured one massive concrete section at a time, until all 422 of them are hoisted into place by five gargantuan cranes that have been positioned at various points along a rail bed trench that will be deepened during the next few weeks.
Representatives of Kubricky Construction, VHB Engineers and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) were the stars of a July 8 online briefing to explain the logistics and impacts of what will amount to a $72 million makeover of the 1920s-era Main Street and Merchants Row bridges, which were taken out three summers ago due to deterioration.
The makeover entails around-the-clock work and forced detours for vehicles, pedestrians and freight trains. It will also bring temporary noise, dust and artificial lighting to the core of Middlebury village.
Main Street, Merchants Row and Printer’s Alley are all slated to remain closed until Sept. 21.
Folks who normally cross Otter Creek via the Battell Bridge on Main Street now have to use the Cross Street Bridge, or the historic Pulp Mill Bridge — a two-lane covered span off Seymour Street. Middlebury’s downtown roundabout will see even more traffic, which will be exacerbated at times by the intermittent trucking of the concrete tunnel sections from the Fifield Farm north on Route 30 to the downtown project site.
“If you’re going to commute during peak hours, definitely anticipate congestion,” VTrans Project Manager Jon Griffin warned.
Officials on July 8 explained the sequencing of tasks during what they’re calling the “10-week closure period.”
During Phase I, July 13-23, workers are excavating the rail bed from 4-12 feet deep, and running along the 3,550-foot length of the project (from near Water Street on the south end to just before the old depot on Seymour Street on the north). Trucks, at a rate of around six per hour, will haul the excavated soil out of the rail bed to the Fifield Farm. Some of it will be reused, while some will be hauled to a location in Bristol, officials said.
Support-of-excavation infrastructure — such as mini piles and metal sheets — will be installed in the excavated areas of the rail bed. Workers will blast out portions of ledge beneath the Main Street portion of the 360-foot tunnel.
Stormwater pipe will be installed under the rail corridor, between Main Street and Merchants Row. The drainage system will lead to an outflow pipe that discharges into Otter Creek.
Scheduled from July 23-Aug. 13, this phase will kick off the installation of the concrete tunnel sections. Six flatbed trucks will continuously haul the sections into downtown. As a result, “brief but regular” traffic delays are expected at the intersection of Cross and Main streets.
“A majority of pieces are going to come up Route 30 directly into downtown Middlebury, around the traffic circle, and up Main Street to Triangle Park,” Kubricky Project Manager John Whittaker said. “There will also be a fairly decent amount of material going out across Cross Street Bridge, coming around Seymour Street, and down into the Marble Works.”
Whitaker said construction activity will at some point force closure of Seymour Street to through-traffic, but he said folks will still have access to Fire & Ice, County Tire and other businesses in that area.
Since the concrete sections will hang over the flatbed trucks, parking will be temporarily suspended along South Main Street between Ralph Myhre Golf Course and Academy Street, according to Whitaker.
“This will create a safe environment for ongoing traffic,” he said.
The large cranes — each of which weigh in excess of 200 tons — will set the precast concrete sections from staging areas at Triangle Park, the upper portion of Merchants Row, the Marble Works, Seymour Street, and within the rail corridor itself.
Large banks of LED lights will illuminate the project site at night. These lights have been installed on power poles.
Scheduled from Aug. 14 to Sept. 21, Phase III work will include hauling excavated soil back to the project area to backfill the tunnel sections within the rail bed.
Main Street and Merchants Row sidewalks will be rebuilt, as will the rail corridor.
On Sept. 21, Main Street and Merchants Row will be reopened to traffic, though Merchants Row will continue to be a one-way road (uphill). The Battell Block driveway will also reopen.
Parking will be restored on Main Street, and Printer’s Alley will be reopened to pedestrian traffic. Plans call for the alley to eventually reopen to vehicles.
Project managers acknowledged downtown travelers, residents and shoppers will encounter significant hurdles during the 10-week closure, including:
• Traffic congestion at the Cross Street intersections with Court Street and Main Street.
• The absence of a pedestrian access across the rail corridor in the downtown. People on foot will need to take the Cross Street Bridge, or walk under the Seymour Street rail overpass near Greg’s Meat Market, according to Griffin.
• Vehicular access to Main Street will be restricted to emergency vehicles and deliveries to downtown businesses.
• The aforementioned noise, dust, artificial light and detours.
While parking will become more scarce in downtown, officials said there will be plenty of spots — just not as close to the businesses that people are visiting. Available spots will include:
• 11 in front of the Post Office on Main Street. These will have a 15-minute limit.
• The “upper” and “lower” municipal lots, located behind the municipal building and Ilsley Library. These will carry two-hour limits. A sign will be posted in the upper municipal lot giving priority for 12 spots to seniors and parents with small children.
• Parallel parking (fronting the park) along one-way Franklin Street (which runs from behind Davis Family Library on the college campus to Academy Street across from the former site of the town offices).
• The municipal lot off Mill Street.
“We feel confident that while Main Street and Merchants Row parking will for the most part be taken out of service… we’ve provided enough parking to encourage you to come downtown, take care of business, and while there see a once-in-a-lifetime construction project,” said Jim Gish, community liaison for the rail bridges project.
A free “Shuttlebury” bus is now available. It will run 15-minute loops to get pedestrians to downtown locations.
Gish said large “mobility maps” will be posted at nine downtown locations to direct people to parking, businesses, restaurants, inns and other places of interest. Smaller versions of these maps will be available in hard copy at businesses, and online, he said.
The Better Middlebury Partnership and the citizens’ group Neighbors Together have organized a series of promotional activities aimed at drawing people downtown and rewarding them for shopping local. On deck (July 10-19): The “Great Middlebury Pig Out,” designed to encourage patronage of local restaurants. Check out Experiencemiddlebury.com for details of those promotions.
A PowerPoint presentation offering more specifics on the 10-week closure — as well as other tasks to be done before the project wraps up in 2021 — can be found at tinyurl.com/ydexwkop.
Make sure to follow progress of the Middlebury tunnel project in the pages of the Independent, at addisonindependent.com, and in Gish’s blog, middleburybridges.org. Watch the videos we have made in collaboration with MCTV documenting the project so far here.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.