Okay, I confess. I like Middlebury's sleek new downtown Cross Street Bridge with its quaint, faux Euro traffic rotary. The multi-million dollar bridge may not be the Ponte Vecchio or the Golden Gate, but it's Middlebury's little span-of-attention-getting.
But with my true bridge confessions comes a nagging reservation about ultimate solutions to big problems facing Vermont communities along U.S. Route 7.
It is unlikely Route 7 will be upgraded to multiple lanes in our lifetime-possibly never. What does that mean for the future of life and travel along the congested, stressed Route 7 corridor north of Rutland?
Well, in the case of Middlebury, I believe that the community would have been better served with a modern bridge constructed at the site of the old Three-Mile Covered Bridge. That wooden span was destroyed by an arson fire back in 1958 and never rebuilt.
But so far, Middlebury's new bridge appears to be the latest fix to the shire town's traffic woes. But you must surely realize that these woes are not going away? Barring a national calamity, there will still be automobiles and trucks bearing commuters and products of commerce.
Just last year Montpelier officials reported that town bypasses are no longer on the table for discussion. Oh, really? How about in another 20-25 years?What will the Montpelier mahdis of the misty future have to say about bypasses then?
Neither automobiles-whether powered by gasoline, diesel, photovoltaics, CVPS cowgas or yet-to-be-invented Mr. Fusion home appliances-nor us Vermonters are going away soon or are we about to change our driving habits.
So, at some moment of future time, Middlebury's downtown traffic congestion will become unsustainable, at least to most residents and merchants. What then? I give it 10-20 years.
Of course, it's easy to see why downtown Middlebury merchants have adopted the new bridge as their own. There were some grumbles early on, but those voices have quieted down since last October's ribboncutting. Now it appears the downtown traffic problem has been solved. But then there's that uncertain word appears.
Overall, town officials behind Middlebury's new bridge deserve praise for tackling a tough issue and moving ahead with this interim solution. But then there's that awkward word interim. We know that the Cross Street Bridge is really just a temporary fix.
Gaze, if you will, into my crystal ball. There swirls the shapes of things to come in the borderlands of Que Sera Sera land.
Ah! It's coming into focus now. See it?
Through the mists of the future we see Middlebury (and Leicester, Brandon, Pittsford and Rutland) in the year 2020. These communities continue to wrestle with staggering Route 7 traffic volumes. Funny how the old road remains nearly unchanged from the 1990s. It is still a two-lane living fossil of the 20th century; no passing lanes, no increase in the speeding limit from decades earlier. In Middlebury, we see that the Cross Street span, built in 2010, did not fix the ever-increasing commuter and commercial traffic downtown.
And with more people moving to Vermont after the boom of the post-2016 election, there are now well over 40,000-plus motor vehicles per day rolling up and down narrow Route 7.
And despite millions of taxpayer funds spent on alternative plans, passenger support of commuter rail and public buses remains anemic in 2020. Tourists and a few locals like the train, but most prefer the independence of navigating their own ground vehicles to work, shopping, and picking the kids up at school.
Since the plan of a westside autobahn, linking Fair Haven with Burlington, was voted down in 2018, the dreaded Middlebury Bypass has returned to Middlebury voters. It is unknown if the bypass will be approved. But other solutions appear unsatisfactory, too.
Our glimpse into the future rapidly fades from view as the mists cloud our far sight.
Back to 2011.
A bypass around Middlebury may not be built by 2020, but such a multi-lane jug-handle spur around downtown will have to be seriously considered just as other Vermont towns along U.S. Route 7 will have to face.
What an absurd scenario, you say. Perhaps, but can any of us be so certain of the shape of things to come?