MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Middlebury College will donate to the town of Middlebury an annual gift of $600,000 for 30 years to enable the town to borrow $9 million toward the construction of an additional bridge over Otter Creek. The bridge will span Otter Creek from Cross Street to Main Street at its intersection with College Street. The annual donations will support the interest and principal payments on the bonds that the town will issue to finance construction of the bridge, which is the largest part of the $16 million Cross Street development project.

“This gift is a response to a request from the town and it reflects the college’s desire to be involved in a project that directly affects the safety of the Middlebury community,” said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz. “It is integral to the safety of students, faculty, staff, other area residents, and to the betterment of the town.”

The new bridge will ease traffic congestion in downtown Middlebury, provide an additional route for emergency vehicles, and serve as a detour, permitting Battell Bridge, Pulp Mill Bridge, and two downtown railroad overpasses to be repaired as needed.  More than 16,000 vehicles cross the Battell Bridge on Middlebury’s Main Street daily. The bridge was built in 1892-1893.

The location of the new in-town bridge will be at Cross Street, accessed by a new roundabout at the intersection of Main Street
and Cross Street.

According to Liebowitz, in the last year the formation and work of the college’s Emergency Planning Steering Committee has brought a focus to issues related to campus safety. The college’s role in the bridge project is also aligned with the institution’s strategic plan, which specifically calls for supporting town officials “as they explore ways to address the gradually worsening local traffic situation” and cites the risk to the college in the event of a fire when fire fighters would be reliant solely on the narrow Battell Bridge.  The college’s board of trustees approved of the plan to support the town at the trustees’ fall meeting in early October. Shortly after that meeting, on Oct. 22, a major train derailment in the middle of town underscored the vulnerability that comes with a single water crossing in town.

“The college’s gift has placed this important project within the town’s financial grasp. The town of Middlebury now has the opportunity to complete a long needed bridge that will benefit both the town and the surrounding area,” said Middlebury Selectboard Chair John Tenny.

The $16 million Cross Street bridge project includes the bridge; new intersections that include a roundabout on Main Street; and reconfigured roadways with improved approaches to downtown. College and town officials believe that support for the bridge project will provide a positive economic outcome as it stimulates the development of the area behind the Ilsley Library.  A recent study of the area, commissioned jointly by the town and the college, envisions public parking in a parking structure and a mix of retail, office and housing uses. The area, currently devoted entirely to surface parking, consists of two parcels ? one of which is owned by the college and one by the town. “Additional parking resources will make shopping downtown more convenient and in the process help to keep the downtown vibrant,” said Tenny.

Tenny and fellow Selectman Dean George, chair of the town’s Bridge Committee, have been seeking additional funding for components of the project through Vermont’s congressional delegation. Town officials are also exploring other funding sources and financing methods to encourage related economic development with the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development. By Middlebury’s 2008 town meeting on March 4, Tenny and George plan to have identified $13-$14 million in funding from the college, government and other local sources.

The residents of Middlebury approved the concept of the new bridge at the 2006 town meeting by approximately 3-1.  At the 2007 town meeting, they approved the addition of $50,000 in funds to the town budget to give selectmen the flexibility to purchase options on properties within the proposed in-town bridge right of way. The new bridge’s location was approved by the town’s residents in a 1992 referendum, and was reaffirmed by voters in 2006.

Tenny said the next step is for residents of Middlebury to vote at town meeting on whether to approve several items related to the new bridge ? engineering and design for the project, acquisition of the necessary property, and bonding for funds in the range of $2-$3 million required to move the project forward. He said he expects construction to start in 2009 and take somewhat less than two years to complete. According to Tenny, the bridge project has broad support from many groups, including the business community, emergency and law enforcement personnel, and local Addison County legislators. The bridge is also a top priority transportation improvement project of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission. 

The funding that the college will provide for the bridge will not affect the college’s annual gift payments to the town, which are paid in accordance with the 20-year agreement that the
town forged with the college in 2004. The amount of the payments is tied to both the town tax rate and the investment return rate on the college’s endowment. In 2007, the gift payment was $216,700. 

Additional information about the bridge project is available in the Nov. 29, 2007, edition of the Addison Independent.