The sun beamed down on dozens of attendees at the Colchester Causeway reopening ceremony in a sharp contrast to the wild rains that damaged the trail and five counties on May 4.
Gov. Phil Scott headlined a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday in celebration of the Causeway’s reopening, which came four days ahead of schedule. He was joined by Vt. Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn, members of the Colchester and South Hero selectboards and the VTrans team that worked on the repairs, among others.
“Getting this causeway open in time for summer biking season was important to me and for many others,” Scott said, “because we knew how important it was to the community to not lose out on the economic benefit that brings people here during the summer.”
The total cost of the project was around $308,000, according to Gordy Eastman, the project’s chief inspector and a VTrans representative. It was completed on time and within the project’s budget, Scott said. The project was expedited by matching federal highway administration dollars with VTrans dollars, Flynn added.
Scott surveyed the damage himself after seeing reports of it and hearing that Local Motion, a non-profit bike advocacy group, planned to close its ferry for the season. He said he walked six miles of the trail in the days after the storm and drew on his background in construction to estimate the necessary fixes.
“I thought we could do this … in two to three weeks,” he said.
Flynn, who worked with Scott to plan the repairs, said he feared FEMA aid would take too long to allow for a summer 2018 season.
“We knew, facing the likelihood then that the Causeway might not open for the entire summer season, that we must find a faster and better solution,” Flynn said.
The project took more than a dozen workers putting in 12 to 14 hour days for six days per week to finish before the July 4 deadline, according to Eastman.
“It was a good effort,” Eastman said, though he called it a “Band-Aid repair” and said the state may decide make further repairs later.
For Ray Allen, a South Hero farmer and business owner, the reopening of the causeway signified hope for a profitable season after fears of loss.
“We’re getting people from a long ways away to come up here,” he said. “This has been a big boom to us.”
Allen described how the path has helped the town economically. He said he finds people come into his store to get a maple creemee as their reward for walking or biking the trail.
“Other folks will come up here, then make a stop for lunch [after visiting the causeway],” he said. “Some make a weekend out of it with a stay, and that greatly helps the island community.”
Scott thanked the various parties involved for their hard and expedited work on the trail.
“This is a great example of what state and local government, along with private partners and businesses, can do when we’re willing to take a different approach,” he said. “When we’re willing to work together.”