The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) announced last week the finalization of a bi-state agreement between New York and Vermont for the progression of a project to rehabilitate or replace the Lake Champlain Bridge-with either a new bridge or a ferry boat-spanning Lake Champlain between Crown Point, N.Y. and Chimney Point, Vt.
No work is planned until 2013, four years after the Champlain Quadricentennial. Tourists to both states this summer will cross a rusting bridge in need of serious repair. Exposed masonry rebar is visible in places on the structure. And there were no plans to cosmetically dress-paint the structure for the international Champlain celebration now underway.
HTNB Corporation of New York City has been selected as design consultant. The project is between NYSDOT and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT), in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
HNTB is a national transportation infrastructure firm doing bridge rehabilitations and replacements. The design team will initiate work on the project once approved by the New York State comptroller.
The bi-state agreement demonstrates the partnership between the states and the common understanding of the needs of the structure, with no specific plan.
The project is considered to be in a preliminary planning stage and is expected to require the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement before a proposed solution is selected.
Options include rehabilitation or replacement of the existing bridge or the use of a ferry boat. While not specifically noted by officials, bridge or ferry tolls could also be considered by the states.
Old bridge reconstruction, new bridge construction, or a ferry boat to replace the bridge, would be tentatively planned for 2013.
The 80-year-old bridge accommodates approximately 3,400 vehicles per day. There was no information provided by either state regarding the daily vehicle capacity of a ferry boat.
The existing structure is a combination of a through-truss, deck-truss and deck plate girders measuring 2,184 feet in length on 14 spans.
Vermont State Rep. Chris Bray (D), whose legislative district includes the Vermont side of the bridge, said he has been kept up-to-date on the recent agreement.
When asled how many local residents use the bridge daily, Bray said, "As I have heard, there are quite few Middlebury College and Agrimark employees who commute from New York (via the bridge)."
Officials of each state said they recognize the significance of the bridge-but there is no certainty that the classic 1920s structure will remain after 2013.
"The agreement requires the states to consider all reasonable alternatives to rehabilitate or replace the bridge, including replacement of the bridge with a ferry," according to James C. Boni, project manager with the New York State Department of Transportation.
The least appealing option, at least to some local residents and commuters, is a speculative ferry boat option. The distance at the bridge site is short and daily commuter costs, as well as delays in queing for a vessel, would likely make this the least appealing option among local residents. An added ferry toll-or even a bridge toll-might be seen as a step back, not an improvement. Many local commuters and shoppers travel between both states via the current bridge.
"In reference to tolling a bridge alternative, it is my understanding that, at an absolute minimum, a statutory authority and an additional agreement between New York and Vermont would be required. Tolling the bridge may also have implications on funding the project with federal funds. Therefore, while tolling a bridge is not completely out of the question, it is probably unlikely," Boni said. "Otherwise the two states risk jeopardizing the federal funding associated with the project-this project is currently funded 80 percent federal, 10 percent New York and 10 percent Vermont."
Terri Meyfield, a Middlebury resident who commutes to work at a large retailer in Ticonderoga via the bridge, wasn't too happy when a ferry option was proposed to her.
"A toll ferry is a terrible idea. Replacing the bridge with a boat would make my life miserable. I am a single mother, and what little money I make now would vanish by paying daily tolls," Meyfield said. "Vermont's new gas tax, my high property taxes, are just getting to be too much. Why are they taxing us more now, during the worst recession since the Great Depression? If this option is seriously on the table-well, then I am going to oppose it."
One of the first tasks the consultant will complete is an evaluation of the existing structure to determine the feasibility of rehabilitating the bridge, including cost of the work and potential impacts to motorists. All options will be identified and evaluated and public input will be solicited before progressing a particular alternative.
A public advisory committee (PAC) has been organized composed of members of various communities and representatives of community groups. To date, three PAC meetings have been held to initiate dialog between the lead agencies and the PAC. The next PAC meeting will be held shortly after the design consultant begins work on the project.
Historic, business, agricultural, residential, environmental, and recreational interests are represented on the PAC. The PAC will be one important method for the lead agencies to obtain stakeholder input early in the planning process when needs are assessed, objectives formulated, and alternatives evaluated for feasibility.
Public informational meetings scheduled during the project's design phase will provide an opportunity for community input. The bridge's condition will continue to be monitored during the development of the project to ensure the safety of the traveling public.
NYSDOT has established a web site for this project which can be found at www.nysdot.gov/lakechamplainbridge" www.nysdot.gov/lakechamplainbridge.
The public is encouraged to visit this site for periodic project updates. Public comments about the project can be sent by e-mailing to email@example.com
Comments can also be mailed to NYSDOT, Region One Design, 328 State St., Schenectady, N.Y., 12305, Attentin: James C. Boni, P.E., or by telephone at (518) 388-0200.