Construction on the Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project continued through the summer, with further work set to take place throughout the next year. The $71 million Bridge and Rail Project, overseen by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), will allow a passenger rail service to run from Rutland to Burlington via Middlebury for the first time since 1953. VTrans expects the project to be completed by 2021.
Despite heavy construction in and around Main Street, project administrators anticipate a positive impact with the return of a passenger rail.
“Not only will we keep our businesses, we will add to the benefits of new businesses coming in downtown once we get through to 2021,” said Jim Gish, Middlebury’s community liaison for the project.
Kubricky Construction and Maine Drilling and Blasting are currently in the process of replacing 3,500 feet of rail line running through downtown Middlebury, track that only freight trains have used in recent years. The new rail line will be continuously welded, resulting in faster and smoother transport for passenger rails; however, this process will require crews to strip the existing rail, excavate below it, and install new tracks. Due to the extent of this construction phase, Main Street and Merchants Row will be closed to all traffic for ten weeks next summer.
Upon project completion, the two temporary town bridges will be replaced with a tunnel, with the rail passing under a green space that will expand Triangle Park. This reclaimed space can be used for Middlebury town events, such as the farmer’s market.
While many are excited for the convenience and opportunities that the passenger rail will offer, some merchants and community members are worried about the effects of a lengthy construction project.
When asked about the disruption to businesses, Gish acknowledged the concerns of local residents. “It’s hard to characterize the entire community, but certainly the owners of the downtown businesses have been concerned about this project from day one,” he said. Construction has limited parking and has the potential to impede local businesses further with road closures next summer.
To offer a counterbalance to the effects of construction, VTrans awarded the town of Middlebury a $230,000 grant. Part of this money is used for Bundle, a workshop and retail space that holds periodic events to highlight the talents of Middlebury and the advantage of a Main Street retail space. Bundle recently relocated to 51 Main St., with Buy Again Alley moving into Bundle’s former space. Gish emphasized that the best way for students to help downtown Middlebury is to continue to shop at stores throughout the next few years.During the toughest part of construction next summer, there will be a special sale held throughout Middlebury every Wednesday to help facilitate patronage at downtown stores. These events are mainly organized by Neighbors Together, a community action group hoping to minimize the impact of construction in Middlebury. Better Middlebury Partnership is the fiscal agent behind this group.
While the current construction can be tough for downtown businesses and residents, Gish remains optimistic. “Once we get through it, it’s going to look beautiful downtown.”
For project updates and construction schedules, visit https://vtrans.vermont.gov/projects/middlebury.