2009 construction season a big one for Bennington Bypass

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(Host) The 2009 construction season has been a big one for the second leg of Vermont Route 279 — the Bennington Bypass.

The project is ahead of schedule, though the three-mile stretch of highway isn’t expected to open until the end of 2011.

VPR’s Susan Keese has an update.

(Keese)The bypass has been in the planning stages for decades, but it seems to be happening at a good time. Project manager Jim Harris says bids for the work have come in 10 to 15 percent lower than budgeted, mostly because of the economic downturn.

(Harris) "I think that a lot of contractors are looking for work and so the bids are reflecting the fact that the lowest responsible contractor is the one who gets the contract. And the state, I guess, has been the beneficiary of that competitive market."

(Keese)The part that’s being built now will link the already-opened first leg of the highway, which crosses the  New York border, to Vermont Route nine. That’s east of town, headed toward Brattleboro.

A third leg, still years in the future, will complete the south end of a semi circle around the town and provide an alternate route in and out of Massachusetts.

The project is intended to divert heavy truck traffic, mostly between Albany and Brattleboro, away from Bennington’s main intersection and historic district.

(Keese) The current phase includes three large highway bridges and could cost as much as $100 million.

It’s kept three contractors and a hundred workers busy all summer in different parts of town.  Now, Jim Harris says, some of the pieces are finally meeting up.

(Harris) "We’re looking at the Furnace Brook Bridge. Right here between the two bridges is actually the demarcation line between the Pike contract and the MacDonald contract… What they’re doing here is they’re bringing the embankment up because it has to meet with the bridge deck."

(Keese) Pike Industries and J.A. MacDonald of Lyndon Center are two of the three contractors on the project.

A fourth and final contract for this phase will reconfigure an interchange on U.S. Route 7 to accommodate a new Welcome Center.

Bennington has never had a welcome center, despite the fact that it’s the first Vermont stop for many travelers from New York and western Massachusetts.

The center is being planned by the state Buildings and General Services Department.

Buildings Commissioner Gerry Myers says the Welcome Center is a state priority –even though Vermont has just closed several rest stops to cut costs.

Myers says many of those areas were too close together.

(Meyers) "I think you need to look at that from a strategic perspective and that’s what we tried to do in right-sizing our welcome centers across the state."

(Keese) State officials are applying for federal stimulus money for the portion of the bypass that includes the welcome center.

If the application doesn’t succeed, the interchange will be built anyway, but the state will have to pick up 20 percent of the cost.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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