For reasons going back to Vermont's 18th century secession from New Hampshire on its right and New York on its left, Vermont has no control over the bridges which connect it to those states.
This fact helps shrinks Vermont's liability for maintenance expenses, but it grows its vulnerability to policy decisions made elsewhere-like the decision made in Albany which imploded the 80-year-old Lake Champlain Bridge. The demolition came as quite a surprise to both Champ-the-lake monster and several hundred New York residents who had been commuting to jobs in Vermont.
Albany's shutdown recommendation came in October with a supporting "study" in November, demolition in December, and replacement-with a similar two-lane design-and restored vehicle usage promised for the summer of 2011.
In the first news reports, bridge deficiency was ascribed to pier deterioration and steel-frame superstructure deterioration.
Ok, if you look into the consulting engineer's reports, you'll find steel-frame, gusset-plate connectors specifically mentioned. Similarly, you may recall, it was gusset-plate failure which was the primary cause of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Wisconsin in 2007.
Subsequent news stories mentioned only pier deterioration; in fact, there's only the briefest mention of gusset plates and no discussion at all of steel frame questions in the NYSDOT report on the Lake Champlain Bridge Project meeting of Nov. 13, 2009, while a full illustrated page is devoted to the flaws in the piers: "Slender, unreinforced", "no pier armor", "iron-ore tailings for concrete aggregate" , and original "caisson placement".
The report lays out the "finding" that both pier and superstructure repair and reconstruction options are dismissed and demolition and replacement of both are required. At this point, I was reminded of the Sherlock Holmes quote, "the strange incident of the dog", in the Arthur Conan Doyle detective mystery "Silver Blaze"-the strange incident being that the dog didn't bark when it should have.
Neither did the NYS-DOT report mention its own prior and successful use of deteriorated-concrete bridge-pier encapsulation technology-some 20 years ago-for repairs on the similar circa-1935 Susquehanna River-Windsor Bridge near Binghamton. It worked! No explanation, in either the engineer's summary report or the state report, not even a single use of the word "encapsulation" or why it wouldn't have worked for the now demolished Lake Champlain Bridge.
Pier encapsulation in Broome County, N.Y., was comprised of a 12-inch-thick reinforced concrete surround and cap being poured all around and over the existing questionable piers, to prevent failure from expansion of existing cracks or surface deterioration. There was zero discussion in the LCBP report of the option. If you want one, check out the Internet: "Reconstruction of Windsor Bridge Piers" posted by the New York Transportation Research Board.
It may be that the New York omerta practice regarding encapsulation stems not from engineering but from politics, specifically from the state's frustration with insufficiently docile residents (who selfishly work outside the state and don't pay enough income tax inside the state).
Albany's code of silence regarding the use of pier encapsulation, which was dictated to the report-writers, was intended to produce a recommendation that might confine those several hundred New York commuters into finding jobs back where their betters want them-at least for as long as possible (through mid-2011). After that, Albany might like to keep them profitably at home by means of suitably high tolls on an expensive new bridge largely funded by Uncle Sam-that is, you and me.
I've had my own distasteful experiences with government report purchasers (in one case, Vermont Education Department Commissioner Richard Gibboney, in the 1960s) demanding that a hired study find and recommend what they want it to find and recommend.
None of what I have just proposed about the reasons behind the demolition of the Lake Champlain Bridge is provable, so I raise it in print as a thought experiment and not as a documentable or even circumstantial theory.
For theoretical substantiation, you might review the tax adventures of New Yorkers who have earned their incomes beyond the state's boundaries; this may give you a flavor of Albany's intense interest in taxing those earnings. Similarly, for those who have fled the Empire State, they have discovered that the state's department of taxes won't let them leave in fiscal peace. A similar pattern, I am told, prevails for non-residents who commute to jobs in the Empire State and/or the Big Apple-with greedy Albany demanding appropriate (in Albany's view, of course) percentages of those earnings to balance all the incredibly burdensome costs generated by workers traveling to-ugh!-work.
As for the great pier engineering mystery, the consulting and reporting dog that didn't bark (and the notion of covert-agenda fiscal motivations concealed by Albany's "omerta" policy), my suspicion is that efforts to research any of these questions would not be graciously welcomed in glasnost-deficient Albany. However, it is-or used to be-a free country. You are welcome to try.
Former Vermont architect Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.