Lebanon Tunnel Fix Will Have Big Price Tag

  • Lebanon city officials and business owners gather in the parking lot at the west end of the Lebanon Mall to view damage to an area of the lot that forms the roof of a pedestrian tunnel Thursday, September 11, 2014. The beams under the asphalt have deteriorated to a state that is forcing the closure of the tunnel and the portion of the parking lot above it. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2018 12:35:35 AM
Modified: 7/10/2018 12:35:39 AM

Lebanon — Repairing the old rail tunnel that runs under the Lebanon Mall likely will cost at least $1 million, regardless of whether it’s ultimately reopened or permanently filled in, according to a new report given to the City Council.

Construction to open the tunnel for bikers and pedestrians could cost more than $2 million, while filling it in could be done for as little as $1 million, the report said.

The City Council on Wednesday will discuss options for the tunnel, which hasn’t been used for rail for decades and was closed to the public in 2014, when engineers determined its structure was in “poor to very poor condition.” But it’s unclear what, if any, action officials will decide upon.

“Whether we come to a decision or not, I don’t know at this point,” Assistant Mayor Tim McNamara said on Monday. “At some point in time we need to make a decision and find a path forward.”

When the city closed access to the tunnel, it also cordoned off about 20 parking spaces above ground and initiated a study to explore potential fixes. The study later expanded in scope into a months-long visioning process where officials and residents drafted plans for a future downtown.

Most of those polled for the visioning study supported reopening the tunnel to cyclists and pedestrians, and a final report recommended a $2 million renovation project.

Supporters of the Mascoma River Greenway, which will connect the Northern Rail Trail downtown to West Lebanon, also want to see the tunnel open again. The tunnel, they argue, will help connect the two neighborhoods without forcing cyclists, pedestrians and cars to share busy roads.

“I think it’s really important that the city take into consideration the safety of bikers and pedestrians getting from one side of the city to the other,” Frank Gould, co-chairman of the Mascoma River Greenway Coalition, said on Monday.

The tunnel runs almost 300 feet from the side of the back parking lot for River Valley Community College under Hanover Street to an area near Route 4.

Once the trail is complete, people will want to use it to get from downtown to businesses and homes across Lebanon, Gould said. But with the tunnel closed, he said, those trips could be difficult to navigate safely.

“If we can’t figure out a way to get that tunnel done, and actually have a way to get from the city to (West Lebanon), it’s going to cut a lot of people off,” Gould said.

But not everyone favors using the tunnel to connect the rail trail. In April 2017, City Councilor Clifton Below presented a plan that would run the path along the Mascoma River, under the Hanover Street bridge and up to the foot bridge behind Goss-Logan Insurance.

Engineers with the Randolph-based DuBois & King visited downtown in October and found that, while Below’s suggested trail is feasible, it wouldn’t be an easy undertaking. “Significant” water studies would be required because of the trail’s proposed location near the river, the engineers said, and state and federal permits would be needed for construction.

Overall, Below’s proposal could cost between $3.5 million and $4.4 million, according to Massachusetts-based consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.

Meanwhile, reopening the path would cost between $2.21 million and $2.29 million, and filling it in would cost between $1 million and about $2 million, the engineers said. Councilors would have to choose whether to maintain parking spaces above ground, or build a new lot.

Construction on all of the projects — aside from a proposal to remove the tunnel completely — is expected to last a single building season.

McNamara, the assistant mayor, said he will have several questions for engineers during Wednesday’s meeting and expects an in-depth discussion from fellow city councilors.

”I’m not thrilled with the cost of several of the (proposals), but I guess it is what it is,” McNamara said.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the tunnel options at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at City Hall.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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