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Bennington’s $135M Bypass Takes Giant Step Ahead

Fri August 16, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

f the new bypass circumventing the town of Bennington, VT, were a clock, the time would be somewhere between 9 a.m. and noon right now.

The bypass will let traffic go clear around Bennington and Old Bennington to the west. Vehicles following the entire route eventually will be able to travel 13 mi. (20.8 km) from the west of Bennington (actually in New York state) clear to the north, east and ultimately south side of town. What has long been a slow, tiresome drive through the cramped downtown area will be avoided once the road is completed. The highway also will cross 13 brand new bridges being built along the route, including an 863-ft. (261.8 m) bridge on the western segment.

Without the bypass, traffic will continue to follow Vermont State Route 9 from the west and east and U.S. Route 7 from the north and south. Both highways intersect in the middle of the downtown. Because of its tight space constraints, it is a difficult journey for large trucks making the turn from one street to the other. But the project has been referred to as a “double bypass” because it should help traffic flow on both highways.

Along with decreased congestion, the new road also is designed to improve safety and allow better use of the local streets for vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Just as massive as it is in scope, it also carries the enormous price tag of $135 million. That amount could go as high as $150 million by the time the project is completed in 2012. It is the largest road construction project to be tackled in Vermont since the Interstate system was built in the 1960s. When it is finished, nearly 70,628,694 cu. yds. (2,600,000 cu m) of dirt will have been moved.

All the work completed so far is on the west side of Bennington. The other two sections will be started at later dates yet to be determined. Combined, the segments are laid out much like a clock. The western section goes from approximately 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., the northern section from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and the southern section on to 6 p.m.

The western portion actually has been split into seven different contracts, all with a variety of completion times.

Stephen Lynch, project manager of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), explained that the contracts take up smaller sections of the clock. Contract 2 actually goes from 9:30-10:00, Contract 3 from 10:00-11:00 and Contract 4 from 11:00-11:15. The second and fifth contracts are nearing completion, while the fourth is halfway done and the third is just getting underway. Contract 7 consists exclusively of landscaping, so work has not yet begun.

“We’ve got contracts ranging in price from 4-13 million,” Lynch said. “We have created a window of a size that we can get good, competitive bids on them. If the contracts are too big, we will not get enough bids.”

VTrans decided to split the project into numerous contracts to create a wider base of bidders and try to create as much competition for the process as it could.

Despite that, the winner of the primary contracts turned out to be the same in each case: Kubricky Construction of Glens Falls, NY. By having more bidders, though, it simply forced Kubricky to bring its prices down, Lynch said, and help keep things under budget. The company is using machinery, such as a Cat 330 for excavating, Volvo articulated trucks, DeMarco bridge finishers, and Ice pile drivers and 100-ton (90 t) track cranes.

Approximately 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) of roadway is “virtually finished,” Lynch said, explaining that that section of road is actually about 95 to 99 percent done.

Contract 4 consists of a lengthy bridge and an interchange, so it does not account for a great deal of area.

Contract 5 is not directly related to the highway or bridges, because it deals with wetlands mitigation. A 30-acre (12.1 ha) plot of land is being transformed from wet pasture to what is called a “state-of-the-science” wetland. The remaining contracts are still in the final design phase. Work on Contract 1 consists partially of the intersection with the highway on the New York side of the state line. However, all of that work also comes under the jurisdiction of VTrans.

A new welcome center also is planned at the northernmost apex of the loop.

“We feel it is going very well,” Lynch said of the entire project.

Lynch also said that the western segment should be completed and open to traffic by November 2004. Each segment will demand at least three or four years to complete, which will push the entire schedule into the next decade.

The biggest challenge for the project may have come before any ground was broken, according to Lynch. Much time was taken before then by what he called “outside influences”, such as property acquisitions, which, in Vermont, have to go through the courts. Until that process is completed, no construction can be started.

To make the project even more time-consuming, an unusual aspect was built into the schedule. One of the most significant archeological sites in the state was discovered along the shores of the Walloomsac River, over which one of the new bridges was built on the western segment. Before any heavy equipment was brought in, archeologists arrived with their picks and hammers to see what had been left at the 4,500-year-old Native American site. As many as 3, 000 people from around the world have come to see the site and its artifacts.

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