Hope in Middlebury for derailed construction project

By LUCY TOWNEND

BENJY RENTON
Work has restarted on Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project, as crews continue to install minipiles this week after being shut down by the state since March 25.

After a period of indefinite delays due to the pandemic, the Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project has received approval from the state to restart on Monday, May 11. The project was first shut down on March 25, when the governor halted all nonessential construction projects across the state of Vermont as part of his Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. Middlebury Bridge and Rail is currently the only project with out-of-state workers approved to restart in Vermont. 

“The Middlebury Selectboard swung into action quickly after that to advocate for reopening the project,” said Jim Gish, community liaison for the project, in an interview with The Campus. According to Gish, the Selectboard immediately began holding meetings with senior management at Vermont Agency of Transportation and Vermont Rail, as well as Kubricky Construction, one of the main contractors for the project. 

“Downtown shut down very quickly once the college sent students home,” Gish said. “The thinking was that this is an ideal time to get this done.” The project was supposed to shut down Main Street and Merchants Row to vehicle traffic for 10 weeks during the summer before the closure, but the town was also wary about closing down Main Street at the beginning of the economic recovery from the pandemic. 

“The governor has been highly concerned with incidents of Covid-19 in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire,” Gish said. “So he’s very keen to protect our borders, and make sure that the virus is not coming from out of state.” 

This posed some problems for the project, as many of the workers for Kubricky live in Essex County, NY and commute to Middlebury. Kubricky came up with an extensive health and safety plan, including social distancing measures, requiring masks and gloves, testing the crew for Covid-19 before coming to Middlebury and monitoring the wellness of the crew once they arrived.

“The state was also asking that if workers came from out of state that they stay in Middlebury for a period of time, 12 days,” Gish said. “Just so that they’re not commuting back and forth.” Construction workers will be staying in Inn on the Green and Swift House Inn, two locally-owned inns in Middlebury. Lodging is considered part of the costs of construction and will be paid for by the Vermont Agency of Transportation. 

“I think what will play an important role here is to see how the governor’s restrictions are eased over the next two weeks,” Gish said. “And to see how Kubricky and subcontractors make out in the field as they adapt to this new way of working.” A timeline for road closures has not yet been set. 

The first crew to arrive this week in Middlebury is from Maine Drilling and Blasting, a subcontractor who will continue to install minipiles, small post-like structures, as part of supportive excavation work. In the coming weeks, Kubricky workers will begin to receive 40-ton precast concrete blocks at the south marshaling yard near Fifield Farm. These blocks will be organized and stored there for the summer shutdown. 

“The town has made a real effort here to work with the state,” said Gish, “And we’re really pleased that the state has shown a willingness to work with us.” 

For more information, visit Gish’s blog about the project at https://www.middleburybridges.org/project-blog.

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