Champlain Bridge Must Be Razed

Fri November 20, 2009 - Northeast Edition
John Curran




WEST ADDISON, Vt. (AP) Closed suddenly in October amid safety concerns, a bridge connecting New York and Vermont is too badly deteriorated to repair and must be replaced, officials announced Nov. 9.

Underwater inspection of the concrete piers and underlying foundations of the Lake Champlain Bridge found cracks and deterioration, making it vulnerable to sudden collapse at any time, said Stanley Gee, acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation.

Neither he nor Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary David Dill would say when construction might begin on the replacement. They said they hope demolition of the existing bridge can begin by year’s end.

The states jointly own and maintain the 2,184-ft. (665.7 m) bridge, which links Crown Point, N.Y., with West Addison, Vt., over a narrow stretch of southern Lake Champlain, about 95 mi. north of Albany, N.Y.

After undergoing work much of the summer, it was closed suddenly Oct. 16 because of safety concerns about the concrete supports.

Its closure has disrupted life for thousands of people on both sides of the border — commuters who live in one state and work in the other, farmers who have operations in both states and businesses located close to each terminus that rely on patronage by commuters.

Approximately 3,500 vehicles a day used the bridge and its closure forced a 100-mi. detour.

The states are gearing up to establish a new ferry service in the shadow of the rusting structure, but it’s unclear how quickly it can begin.

On Nov. 9, archaeologists from the University of Vermont, working under contract, were busy digging in a field next to the bridge in hopes of establishing what artifacts, if any, lie underneath the ground where the new ferry approach and terminals would be built.

Ray Giroux, president of Champlain Bridge Marina, a marina and boat sales business on the Vermont side, called the news devastating.

“The inconvenience to people — going over on a ferry, or whatever they’re going to do — is really going to impact my business,’’ he said. “This is a crying shame, to have ill maintenance from our government and not see it way ahead of time.’’

The permanent closing of the bridge is bad news for commuters.

“I hope they do something soon,’’ said Melissa Bienvenue, of Addison, who works at Goodrich Aerospace in Vergennes, where many New Yorkers commute to work. “They have to take the long way around.’’

Jessica Rochon, a clerk at a general store in Addison, said business was off since the closing.

“Down that way is a ghost town,’’ she said, gesturing toward the bridge.

If repairs were attempted, the severity of deterioration to the piers would endanger contractors and engineers, Gee said.

Cracks caused by repeated freeze-thaw cycles, combined with the imminent onset of winter weather, make further deterioration likely, according to Gee, who said previous estimates put the cost of a replacement bridge at about $50 million.