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The Challenges of an Eastern Rail Bypass

Recently the idea of replacing the downtown segment of the rail line with a rail bypass through the eastern section of Middlebury has resurfaced. I thought it would be helpful to share with the community some of the challenges this approach would likely face. The Federal Highway Administration and the Vermont Agency of Transportation will report on their evaluation of the bypass at the May 11 public meeting (see related blog post).

The proposed eastern rail bypass would cross several town roads in addition to Route 7 twice. From south to north, the rail line would cross Creek Road, Halladay Road, Route 7, Lower Foote Street, Quarry Road, Painter Road, Halpin Road, Happy Valley Road, and Route 7 again. Impact on local traffic and on major residential areas east of town would be significant.

Because the proposed route would cross wetlands, farmland, forest land, and streams, substantial permitting would need to take place, a potentially time-consuming process with no guarantee that permits would eventually be issued.

Right-of-way easements would need to be negotiated and purchased from many landowners along the proposed route. I haven't heard any support for the bypass from residents on the eastern side of town and it's not unlikely that one or more landowners in the path of the bypass would fight the project similarly to what we've witnessed with Vermont Gas in Monkton and Cornwall.

There is no funding source for an eastern rail bypass or for converting the current downtown rail line to a bike path. The State, not Vermont Rail, owns the western rail corridor and would be responsible for the cost of any such project. OMYA has declined to invest in a rail spur.

If the State were to invest in an eastern bypass, the Main Street and Merchants Row bridges would still need to be replaced and that cost would likely then fall to the Town. Current estimates of a bridges-only fix are in the neighborhood of $12 million.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions.

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