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Environmental concerns have prompted a delay of the proposed Middlebury tunnel project in Vermont, state transportation officials announced late last week.The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) has been working with the town of Middlebury and stakeholder groups in recent months to advance the proposal to replace two aging highway bridges in downtown that cross the Western Corridor rail line. The proposal calls for replacing the bridges with a tunnel.But recent objections to the project prompted it to be postponed to after 2017 so that Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and state officials have more time to complete a detailed environmental assessment as part of the National Environmental Policy Act, according to a VTrans press release.If the assessment finds significant impacts on the environment, a comprehensive alternatives analysis in the form of an environmental impact statement will be performed. A finding of no significant impact would allow the project to proceed with the current alternative to replace the aging bridges with a tunnel.In addition to replacing the bridges, the project would correct poor drainage related to icing along a segment of the rail line, and increase train clearance beneath the highway overpasses to modern standards."It is unfortunate that the collective efforts of so many can be sidelined by the threat of legal action," said Vermont Transportation Secretary Chris Cole. "But rather than carry that risk into construction and potentially cost the taxpayers additional funds, VTrans and FHWA have elected to engage in an additional administrative process."
The $40 million project has been under consideration for several years. Authorities previously determined that the project would be exempt from a comprehensive environmental assessment, according to a report in the Addison County Independent.
But an attorney representing local businesses and property owners concerned about the project argued to Cole that the project should not qualify for an exclusion, the newspaper reported.