Middlebury Looks to Replace Historic Bridges

By Erin Petry

February 15 marked the beginning of an effort to replace the historic Main Street and Merchants Row bridges in downtown Middlebury.

Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) an engineering consulting firm that, according to its website, works to provide “multidisciplinary planning, design, engineering and consulting for some of the nation’s most complex infrastructure and development initiatives,” is leading the project’s engineering-design and environmental-permitting team. Other firms, including Otter Creek Engineering (Middlebury), Landworks (Middlebury), SE Group (Burlington) and GeoDesign (Windsor), are also contributing to the project development process.

Project Manager Mark Colgan of VHB noted that currently there are over 100 people working on the project. There are also many additional community members and business owners who are assisting with input for the alternatives analysis.

A central objective of the project is to improve the overall safety in the Middlebury community as the effort will replace two deteriorating, 93-year-old bridges that create a passageway for the railroad that runs through downtown Middlebury. Colgan noted that in addition to significantly increasing safety by replacing these bridges, the project will “[improve] drainage, roadway geometry [and] aesthetics.” The work will also include repairing streets and sidewalks, upgrading municipal utilities and drainage and allowing for future passenger rail.

Moreover, approximately 1,000 ft. of railroad track will be lowered, allowing for “more efficient movements of freight along the rail line between Rutland and Burlington with increased vertical clearance to handle double-stack rail cars,” said Colgan.

Eighty percent of the project costs will come from federal funds while the remaining 20 percent will be covered by the state, said Colgan. The VTrans Local Transportation Facilities Division will oversee the project, distribute funding to the town and ensure that all state and federal guidelines are followed.

Colgan noted that, with construction planned to begin in 2014, the project is on a very tight schedule. Despite this, the expedited process is not seen as an issue. Since the preliminary stages of the project have already been moving forward quite efficiently, “the Town of Middlebury is optimistic that the project can be completed on a fast-track schedule similar to the Cross Street Bridge, which was completed in less than two years,” he said.

Colgan explained that the “project has many firsts with use of the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CMGC) approach and municipal management of such a large project funded entirely by state and federal governments.”

Indeed, the restoration effort will use Vermont’s first CMGC project delivery system. Colgan remarked that the CMGC approach will help the team complete the project efficiently.

One concern is that the project will pose a problem for traffic in downtown Middlebury, particularly since both bridges are located on the busiest rail line in the state. Colgan notes that the project team will focus on maintaining vehicular and rail traffic and minimizing the project’s negative impact on local businesses and historical preservation.

Additionally, the team will implement a public outreach plan. The first public informational meeting was already held on March 28.

“This is a great opportunity for the town to lead the state’s first CMGC project,” remarked Colgan.