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Champlain Bridge Designer Helps Celebrate New Span

Tue June 05, 2012 - Northeast Edition

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Some of the bridges Ted Zoli has designed get used by more vehicles in a few minutes than travel across the Lake Champlain Bridge during an entire day.

Still, there’s something about the six-month-old span connecting New York and Vermont that’s special to the award-winning bridge designer, and it has a lot to do with its location: the Adirondacks, where the Manhattan-based engineer was born.

“There’s something remarkable about the Adirondacks. It gets in your blood,” Zoli told The Associated Press by telephone from his New York City office.

Zoli was the keynote speaker May 19 for the opening ceremony of a two-day celebration of the bridge’s opening last November. Events were held at the Crown Point State Historic Site on the New York end of the bridge, and at Chimney Point State Historic Site in Addison on the Vermont side. A fireworks display closed out the celebration.

Organizers decided to hold off until May to host a community party for the new bridge, which replaced the original 80-year-old span that was demolished in December 2009. New York state bridge inspectors closed the span two months earlier after finding its concrete piers were deteriorating.

Soon after the bridge’s closing, Zoli’s Kansas City-based firm, HNTB, was hired by New York state to design the new bridge — and given 10 weeks to do it. New bridge designs typically take 18 to 24 months, Zoli said. His team met the compressed deadline, and construction of the new span began in the spring of 2010.

Part of the design process included seeking the public’s comment and Zoli speaking at well-attended meetings at locations in both states. Hundreds of people turned out for the gatherings, something that usually doesn’t occur for one of his urban bridge projects, Zoli said.

“It helps when you can directly connect your work with the people served,” Zoli said.

And even though many of those he encountered were inconvenienced by 100-mi. detours before a temporary ferry system was started in early 2010, the engineer said he and his colleagues always felt welcome. Having been born in the Adirondacks and raised in their southern foothills in Glens Falls, Zoli knew how much the old bridge meant to local residents and how its loss affected their lives.

“The patience and respect people in the region showed us ... that would take your breath away,” he said.

The Lake Champlain Bridge, located 100 mi. north of Albany, is used by about 3,500 vehicles daily. Boston’s Zakim Bridge, also a Zoli design, handles more than that in a half hour. But Zoli said each bridge he designs shares a common trait: they belong to the people who use them.

“We’re using taxpayer money to make them a bridge,” he said. “Somehow we tend to forget all that.”

The new bridge’s design, known as a modified network tied arch, features a half arch over the middle, with cables strung in an X-shape connecting the arch to the bridge deck. The Adirondacks rise to the west, while Vermont’s Green Mountains climb to the east. Motorists, pedestrians and bicyclist get a scenic view when they cross the 2,184-ft.-long span.

Zoli was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2009, and last month he was awarded the construction industry’s most prestigious honor, Engineering News-Record’s Award of Excellence. HNTB’s national bridge chief engineer also has plenty of fans along Lake Champlain’s southern end, where the new bridge has received rave reviews from locals.

“I have never heard a negative reaction to it,” said Sue Hoxie, spokeswoman of the organization staging the celebration. “This new bridge is just a beauty.”

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