Middlebury big dig on schedule
$75M VTrans project continues to hurt businesses already struggling from coronavirus closures.
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A major construction project continues to hurt retail businesses in Middlebury that were already struggling from the coronavirus closures.
Construction cranes loom like skyscrapers in Middlebury. A drone’s-eye view shows the magnitude of VTrans’ $75 million Middlebury Bridge Rail Project.
“We have hit the center piece of a four-year long project to reconstruct the downtown bridges and the downtown rail corridor in Middlebury,” said Jim Gish, the town’s community liaison on the project.
Now in its third year, the federally-funded project has shut down Main Street and the Vermont Rail System tracks for 10 weeks until September.
"The benefits of the project is that we had two 100-year-old bridges that were deteriorating to the point that they needed to be knocked down," Gish said.
He says those bridges will be restored, in addition to rebuilding the train tunnel with 422 pieces of pre-cast concrete. “To allow the contractor to reconstruct the bridges as a downtown tunnel and to reconstruct the rail corridor,” Gish said.
But with construction comes an impact to the local economy. "It's been a challenge along the way," said Rob Carter, president Addison County Chamber of Commerce. He says the biggest impact is on Main Street and Merchants Row. Before the coronavirus, they were going to have events and promotions to lure shoppers downtown. "That was the plan -- that they were going to stay open through the time."
But that plan was scrapped and at least five business have not reopened for in-person sales since COVID closures this spring. Still, Carter says there is light at the end of the tunnel. “A much nicer and easier to use downtown, because really, that hole through the middle of the town, the railroad will be gone
"This will restore those bridges with a downtown tunnel, which in turn will restore the town green that we are currently on, to its original dimensions before the railroad came through in the 1840s," Gish said.
The project is scheduled to be completed on time by next July.
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