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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Middlebury christens Cross Street Bridge

This Saturday, Oct. 30 marked one of the most significant events for the town of Middlebury in the past century. The Cross Street Bridge, a project on the town docket for over 50 years, opened to the public with a daylong community event that celebrated the tremendous accomplishment. The celebration, which took place on the bridge itself, included a parade and several performances and speeches by the dignitaries most influential in the process. Attendees ranged from local families to college students and professors.
“I love this bridge,” said Ann Webster, a lifelong Middlebury resident who attended the celebration. Webster is pleased that the bridge will reduce traffic congestion and make walking around town more pleasant. For Webster, the bridge, with its wide sidealks and outlooks over Otter Creek, is a route for pedestrians, as well as for automobiles, as people now have faster walking access to the other side of town.
“We have a second full service river crossing, and we have a carefully designed traffic management network to reduce congestion while increasing pedestrian safety,” said John Tenney, chairman of the board of selectmen. The new roundabout and improved Cross Street intersection with Route 7 serve that purpose.
Local businesses like American Flatbread and Carol’s Hungry Mind Café provided food and refreshments for the celebration attendees. In addition to a performance from the College’s hip-hop dance crew, Riddim, the female acapella group “Made in Vermont” sang the national anthem. After brief speeches by emcee Doug Anderson, director of the Town Hall Theater, and President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz, Jer Coons and the Grift performed. The evening officially ended at 6:30 p.m. with a fireworks display.
The grand celebration signifies the end of a long process for many who have worked on its development for years. Dean George, vice chairman of the board of selectmen in Middlebury, said that the idea for another bridge was founded in the “urgency in trying to figure out how to get our fire trucks and ambulances from one side of town to the other” in case the Battell Bridge was somehow unusable. Though the bridge’s construction did not officially begin until April 14, 2009, George said that the idea had been discussed for a long time, becoming a more prominent issue in the early 21st century. Once the idea to build a second bridge was decided upon, the next task became figuring out where best to place it.
“We went to work immediately,” said George. “A lot of time and work was put into evaluating the various options before us.”
After much debate, the Cross Street location was decided for the bridge in 2005. At that point, the main issue left to resolve was financial support — a lack of state and federal funding stalled previous bridge projects and nearly halted this one.
“Without community support, it would have been easy to stop pursuing the effort,” said George.
The total cost of building the bridge came to $16 million dollars, without any additional property tax for the citizens of Middlebury. Instead the town approved a Local Option Tax, or a one percent increase in local sales tax, to fund the project, but the town needed another source of income to make the bridge a reality.
In late 2007, the College partnered with the town to fund the bridge’s construction. The College has always been a significant part of the local community, and the decision to aid the town in funding construction strengthened those ties. Liebowitz said that helping to fund the bridge was an easy decision.
“The College has never forgotten its roots and from it is beginning in 1800, the College owes its beginnings to the town of Middlebury,” said Liebowitz in his speech.
The College’s contribution, $9 million over the next 30 years, will keep the town and the College working together for decades to come.
“Today stands as a rare example of the highly collaborative efforts between a College and its community,” said Tenney, supporting his idea that the bridge is much more than an alternate route across Otter Creek.
Thanks to the College, the citizens of Middlebury and the many boards that headlined the project, the bridge was built in three years, from financing to completion. The construction also helped to boost the local economy over the course of those three years. George said that one of the goals in buildng the bridge was to provide “opportunities to keep people working and businesses surviving.”
All of the workers were locals, as well as most of the contractors and landscape artists. Tenney explained that the opening celebration was not so much for the completion of the bridge but “as a commencement of sorts — a new era of opportunities for Middlebury and her downtown.”
Plans for potential new businesses in the area are already up for discussion.
While the day’s events may be over, the completion of the bridge marks an important beginning for the town and the College.
“It’s not only a bridge,” said Liebowitz in his speech. “It’s a beautiful bridge. This is something we can all be proud of.”