Middlebury board reviews bridges project, braces for 2020
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s Downtown Railroad Bridge Replacement Project has gone as smoothly as could be hoped and is ahead of schedule in some areas, project community liaison Jim Gish told the Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday.
But, Gish warned, the “heavy lift” lies ahead in 2020.
That’s when Middlebury’s Main Street will be closed to through traffic for roughly two months, from May 27 to an estimated Aug. 5, to allow final installation of a precast concrete railroad tunnel through the heart of town.
The tunnel will replace aging bridges on Main Street and Merchants Row that were deteriorating and removed last year, and that the Vermont Agency of Transportation had ruled were too low to accommodate future rail freight needs, and the railroad bed had to be lowered.
At least, Gish said, contractor Kubricky Construction Corp. and VTrans are confident in their timetable.
“I would say the state and Kubricky are feeling pretty bullish about beating that date,” Gish said.
Certainly, Gish pointed to elements of the 2019 project — much of which has been done in the railroad bed under Main Street and Merchants Row and along 3,500 feet of track extending north and south from there — that has been done efficiently.
He said some work was running at or ahead of its timetable, citing in particular the work of stabilizing the banks over the lowered railbed, lowering town utility lines under railroad tracks, and blasting bedrock along the rail line between Triangle Park and the Seymour Street fire station.
Kubricky has limited blasting to weekends, with explosives detonated at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, times that Gish said are intended to be the least disruptive. The detonations were scheduled for the weekends of Sept. 14 and 15, Oct. 12 and 13, Nov. 9 and 10, and Dec, 7 and 8. Given how well September went, Gish said December might not be necessary.
“We’re hoping to avoid the last one, when Santa comes to town,” he said.
Gish also reported that Kubricky hopes this year to work with Vermont Gas to install infrastructure to serve buildings between Merchants Row and the downtown bridge, including the Battell Bridge.
Vermont Railway Inc. has agreed to run trains between 2 and 6 a.m. to allow work to proceed, Gish said. This is something that has meant idling trains in neighborhoods on Seymour, Water, Cross and South Pleasant streets, and near the Battell Block, thus creating late-night noise for residents.
Gish claimed they have been accepting of the issue.
“Folks are fairly understanding,” he said. “There has been an impact, though.”
He also acknowledged the sporadic closing of Merchants Row and Main Street, which he said Kubricky has done its best to minimize.
Gish also said the change of Merchants Row to a one-way street and the greater impact of construction probably contributed to the two empty Battell Block storefronts there, citing “obviously some impact from the project.”
He offered a contrast, however, in noting that Buy Again Alley had moved to 60 Main St. and Bundle to 51 Main St.
The work next year will start with Merchants Row closing to allow the temporary bridge there to be dismantled. After a break for the Memorial Day weekend and Middlebury College commencement, the heart of the project will commence with Main Street’s closure between Seymour Street and its intersection with Mill Street and Bakery Lane on May 27. The rail line will also be closed, with freight diverted to the state’s eastern corridor.
Work downtown will proceed 24 hours a day/7 days a week, with trucks bringing in precast concrete along Route 30 from a storage site to the south. Access and deliveries to all downtown buildings will be maintained, and sidewalks will be open.
The construction phases will change constantly, Gish said.
“Things are going to change … rapidly as the 10 weeks evolve,” he told the selectboard.
Traffic will be an issue on other roads, especially during peak hours. Gish said a “mobility plan” is being developed that among other thing includes approaching employers about creating flexible hours for their workers, and encouraging out-of-downtown parking options and carpooling for downtown companies and their employees.
“We’re going to do everything we can to manage traffic, but at the end of the day it’s going to be a challenge,” Gish said.
Gish praised the efforts of Kubricky and those of the organization Neighbors, Together, which has been charged with administering a VTrans grant to ease the project’s effect on Middlebury’s downtown (see story).
“From my point of view it’s a well managed project, and Neighbors, Together is doing a good job on managing the impact on the community,” Gish said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.