College staff brace for summer road closures in town

By LUCY TOWNEND

COURTESY PHOTO
Construction continues underneath the Main Street Bridge as part of the Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project.

The Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project, promising a passenger rail from Rutland to Burlington by 2021, will necessitate road closures on Merchants Row and Main Street between May 4 and Aug. 5. The town is currently working with Middlebury College administrators, in conjunction with the College’s 15-member Staff Council (MSC), to mitigate the potential effects of the project on staff commutes this summer. 

Stacie Marshall, a member of the Staff Council who works in the Office of Advancement, said staff are most concerned about the increase in traffic the process will cause. Employees are also worried about delays, congestion and increased risk of accidents, according to a survey sent out by the MSC.

“Typically, I do need to get over the bridges somehow,” Ryan Clement, a data services librarian at Davis Family Library, told The Campus “[The project] will make me figure out a longer route around depending on the time of day.”

“Traffic will be much more congested throughout town with only having one bridge.” said Jennifer Pottinger, a customer services coordinator for facilities services. 

At the Staff Council’s Jan. 31 meeting, it presented some written recommendations to the Senior Leadership Group (SLG), President Laurie Patton’s advisory council. These recommendations included providing options to work remotely, as well as shared office spaces north and south of town. Employees also proposed incentives for biking or walking to work, encouraging staff to use the bus or providing a shuttle for places south of town.

It is uncertain as to when the Staff Council will hear back from the SLG regarding these suggestions.

“I go across the Cross Street Bridge,” said Erin Goodrich, associate administrator of student life. “I assume that traffic will be very backed up.”

Merchants Row will be closed to traffic starting on May 4, with Main Street closures following on May 27. At that time, workers will begin replacing the two bridges with a tunnel and expanding Triangle Park. There will be no construction over Memorial Day Weekend.

In addition, Franklin Street, which runs from Davis Library to The Mill, will become one-way starting May 1 so that the town can add more parking spots within close walking distance of downtown.

“Parking is already hard if you don’t know where it is, ‘’ Clement said. 

Both roads will reopen by Aug. 5, restoring all downtown parking.

Jim Gish, the community liaison for Bridge and Rail Project, predicts that the worst congestion will be during the first five to six weeks of construction due to extensive construction traffic in addition to the road closures. 

“Middlebury and the Agency of Transportation have planned extensively for the downtown detour,” Gish said. “We will also be relying on the patience and good humor of the motorists who will have to contend with this temporary disruption.” 

Some staff members are not concerned about the traffic changes. “I don’t have concerns for my own commute, because I live close to town,” said Carolyn Dahm, administrative coordinator for International Student and Scholar Services, who uses the bridges in her commute. 

“I remember when the project started, they were building the temporary bridges,” said Clement, “and the impact was not as much as I’ve worried it will be.” 

Throughout this spring, construction will entail installing timber lagging under and around the Main Street bridge, while sheet piles, used to stabilize railway lines, are installed near Seymour Street. 

Jess Crossman, who works in Atwater Dining Hall, said she foresees an effect on local commerce. “I can definitely see it affecting small businesses,” said Crossman, who also works at Cafe Provence in Brandon. She said that an ongoing construction project in Brandon completed in summer 2019 had a negative effect on business at the cafe. 

Still, Crossman echoed the sentiment reported by many local Middlebury business owners in The Campus this October. “I think the end result is pretty great,” she said, “if you can suffer through it.” 

Road closures will coincide with the beginning of Middlebury language schools and Middlebury Reunion 2020, but Gish emphasizes that all stores will still be accessible. “All sidewalks will be open,” she said, “and Middlebury’s stores and restaurants will need their business.” 

“I think if people really want to go somewhere,” said Dahm, “they will go somewhere.”