Middlebury to vote on new village bridge

02/29/08 7:04AM By Melody Bodette

(Host) Middlebury will be voting on a new village bridge on Town Meeting Day. Voters will weigh in on a $16 million bond for a new span.

The bond would be paid off with the proceeds of a local options tax, which is also on the ballot.

The proposed bridge will connect Cross Street to Routes 125 and 30. Town officials say the new bridge will help ease traffic, as well as provide a second option for emergency vehicles to get to the hospital.

Currently drivers have to cross the single-span Battell Bridge or the Pulp Mill Bridge, a wooden, covered span.

The stone Battell Bridge needs repair, and two railroad bridges under downtown need to be replaced. Those projects can't move forward until a second bridge is in place.

Ideas for a new town bridge or a bypass have been floated since the 1950s. That's when a bridge outside the village burned, and voters decided against replacing it at the next Town Meeting.

Town Planner Fred Dunnington says Middlebury College helped the newest effort get off the ground.

(Dunnington) "The thing that's really given us a shot in the arm at this point is that the college has stepped up and agreed to participate with the town. In a local financing of this, this would involve no state or federal funds."

(Host) Middlebury College has pledged $600,000 per year for 30 years for the project. The town would need to come up with the balance, and town officials hope to do that with a local options tax.

Dunnington says Middlebury hopes to use it differently than other towns that have instituted such a tax:

(Dunnington) "Other communities are using this to offset the changes that affected their municipal finances since the advent of school funding. That's really not our situation. This is very clearly, far and away for this project that the community has needed. And I might say this is not only about moving traffic and providing an alternative emergency route, it also helps to access a site downtown that can be a future building block."

(Host) Dunnington says voters are only being asked to approve the charter change to allow the tax. If they say yes, and the legislature approves the charter change, voters will have another chance to decide what services the tax will be applied to.

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