Motorists travel between Crown Point, N.Y. and Addison, Vt. on the Lake Champlain Bridge around 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7 shortly after the new span opened.
Hundreds of people lined up to cross the new $76 million Lake Champlain Bridge Monday, Nov. 7 — bicyclists, walkers, runners and, finally, the motorists.
First they had to get past New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and a group of VIPs giving speeches and cutting a golden ribbon. Once the hour-long ceremony was over, around 3:30 p.m., the podium was removed, the white chairs stacked against the guard rail, and the crowds streamed across the bridge to Vermont.
It had been more than two years since the 1929 bridge closed here on Oct. 16, 2009. Commuters and visitors had to take a free ferry to get between Crown Point, N.Y. and Addison, Vt. when the service opened on Feb. 1, 2010. The loss of the old bridge was described multiple times as “an inconvenience.”
While politicians lamented the old bridge — remembered well by more than a dozen ’29ers who had been at the original Aug. 26, 1929 bridge opening — Nov. 7, 2011 was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Lake Champlain.
“I want to point out that this is day one,” said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh. “We’re going to count forward from here.”
The concept of linking the two states with a new bridge was a common theme among the speakers.
“When I looked out, as I was coming today, I saw the hands of the community, of the state of New York and the federal government reaching out to one another to bring New York and Vermont back together again,” Owens said.
While some spoke of the bridge as a metaphor — connecting the common values of Vermonters and New Yorkers in the Champlain Valley — others described it as a transportation link essential to the everyday lives of residents.
“It’s more than concrete and steel,” said New York Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro. “It is the link that the North Country has to the closest trauma unit, and many ambulances run back and forth across this bridge.”
Between Oct. 16, 2009 and Feb. 1, 2010, people had to drive around the old bridge site to get to the other side, a commute of more than 100 miles for work, hospital visits, vacations, etc. While the absence of a bridge was a barrier, the presence of a bridge is being seen as a step toward normalcy.
“It’s a place where fire companies run back and forth between Addison, Vt. and Crown Point and conversely from Addison to help each other,” Sayward said. “It’s farmers who have to cross this bridge to feed their cattle and to get their crops. It’s people traveling into New England, it’s New Englanders traveling into New York ... Today, your life begins again.”
Shumlin marveled at the speed of the bridge’s construction.
“This is the best example of government serving people and getting things done that you’ll find anywhere in the nation,” Shumlin said.
“If you were to turn on the media and the news tonight and any story on any given day, you hear about what’s wrong with government. You hear all the bad things that are going on in this world,” Duffy said. “And today, we get to celebrate what is right ... to be where we are today in literally two years’ time is nothing short of a miracle.”
Other speakers included New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald; Sue Minter, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation; Vermont State Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes; Jonathan McDade, New York division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration; Karen Hennessy (New York) and Lorraine Franklin (Vermont), co-chairs of the Lake Champlain Bridge Community; Crown Point Town Supervisor Bethany Kosmider; and New York Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.
“I don’t know that you can have a better bridge,” Little said.
The new Network Tied Arch Bridge is a steel structure with an arch along the center span. It was designed by Ted Zoli and built by Flatiron Construction. The bridge’s design makes it safer than the previous structure and will ensure at least a 75-year service life. Key bridge components are designed to be easily replaceable to reduce maintenance costs. Travel lanes are 11 feet wide, with 5-foot shoulders that will help accommodate larger trucks and farm vehicles, as well as provide ample room for bicyclists. Sidewalks are featured on both sides of the bridge.