An Addison County community on Friday celebrated the reopening of its downtown and the upcoming arrival of an additional travel option that will connect it and other parts of western Vermont to New York City.
That future Amtrak passenger service would not have been possible without a massive construction project digging a new train tunnel through Middlebury that’s taken years to complete — and even required the closure of roads for a couple of months downtown.
A noisy and inconvenient 10-week stretch saw busy Main Street and a side street shut down for construction following years of other work. The street closures were a planned layer of stress made more challenging for businesses by the pandemic.
“Everybody’s just looking forward to getting downtown back to what it was,” said Emily Quesnel, who works in downtown Middlebury and who attended the community celebration Friday of the reopening of Main Street following construction.
Traffic is now flowing smoothly again through downtown Middlebury.
“I think the finished product is even better than we hoped for,” said Kathleen Ramsay, Middlebury’s town manager.
According to the Vermont Agency of Transportation, federal funds covered most of the complex $70 million project, which Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn called one of the most aggressive jobs in his agency’s history.
The project replaced two century-old bridges in the center of town and upgraded the rail corridor with a new tunnel so trains can now travel under Main Street, meeting modern standards.
“This is really a crowning project for the agency and for Vermont,” Flynn said in an interview with NECN Friday.
While the downtown streets are back open to traffic, construction is not quite complete yet. Work will be continue next spring and summer on a passenger rail platform in Middlebury. Another is in the works in Burlington.
The state expects Amtrak service to New York City to start in late 2021 or early 2022.
“Obviously, our largest city being Burlington — a very big college town — we think there’s going to be quite a bit of ridership coming from that,” said Dan Delabruere of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
A ceremonial passenger train headed through Middlebury’s new tunnel Friday before it opened for freight use.
Even though that extension of Amtrak service is still more than a year down the line, some are already excited.
“It will make traveling so much easier with a child,” predicted Alison McKenney of Middlebury. “We go to New York at least once a year, so it’d be awesome to be able to take it from here.”
At the ribbon-cutting Friday, town leaders called the travel option, plus infrastructure improvements downtown, key to revitalizing their community and bouncing back stronger from the pandemic — especially after waiting through such a long stretch of construction.