Will the new Champlain Bridge open as scheduled Oct. 9?
No one seems to know.
“We are currently in discussions with the contractor to see what impact the spring weather and flooding has had on construction and determine when the bridge will be opened to traffic,” said Carol Breen, senior public information officer with the New York State Department of Transportation.
She declined to offer an opening date — which has forced the Lake Champlain Bridge Coalition to postpone its planned opening celebration. That celebration was planned for Oct. 15 and 16.
DOT officials have insisted the bridge project is on schedule, despite granting the contractor a 65-day extension to its project schedule in March. DOT had listed Oct. 9 as the opening date on its website. Now there is no opening date listed.
Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider believes the bridge will open late. She thinks DOT is delaying making a formal announcement to delay public criticism as long as possible.
“I’ve called DOT and they haven’t called me back,” Kosmider said. “I can’t get anything firm from them.”
Flatiron Constructors of Lafayette, Colo., is building the span. It was the low-bidder at $69.6 million.
Flatiron is under contract to build the new span within 500 days of groundbreaking. The contract includes a provision requiring Flatiron to absorb the costs of the adjacent, temporary ferry service — about $30,000 a day — for every day beyond the 500-day limit. The contract also provides a financial incentive — up to $1.5 million — for Flatiron to complete the work in less than 500 days.
“The October (opening) date has all of the sudden disappeared,” said Karen Hennessy of the bridge coalition. “Now DOT tells us the opening date is undetermined. We’ve talked to DOT a great deal the past week without getting any sort of commitment. It would not be prudent on our part to throw a party and not have the guest of honor (the bridge) in attendance.”
While the opening date seems uncertain, work is continuing. The structure is taking shape between Crown Point and Addison, Vt.
“In terms of construction, we have completed assembly of the center arch span and are installing support cables and lighting on the arch,” Breen said. “We are pouring concrete decks on both the Vermont and New York sides of the bridge.”
At the same time the bridge arch is being constructed on barges in Port Henry and will be floated to the structure later this month, Breen said.
“We’re planning to lift the arch into place late this month,” she said. “The process will take two days. First, the arch will be loaded onto barges at Valez Marine and floated down the lake to the bridge site. A safe zone will be established around the arch barges during the transport, but the lake will not be closed. The arch will then have to be connected to lifting cables. The actual lift will occur on the second day and is expected to take between 12 and 18 hours. The main navigational channel under the bridge will be closed during the lift.”
The bridge will be based on a modified network arch design and will include bike paths and pedestrian walkways on both sides.
While the opening celebration is being postponed, the Lake Champlain Bridge Coalition is still planning a small event Oct. 16 to mark the two-year anniversary of the bridge closing. The Lake Champlain Bridge was immediately closed Oct. 16, 2009, when state transportation officials, without warning, declared it unsafe.
“We’ll still mark the occasion,” Hennessy said. “We don’t want people to forget we’ve been without a bridge for 720 days.”
The bridge served about 3,000 vehicles a day, meaning people who used the bridge daily to reach their jobs, health care facilities, grocery stores and other necessities were forced to take detours lasting up to four hours. The closing led to the closure of businesses on both sides of the lake and crippled tourism.
A temporary ferry service now links Crown Point and Addison, Vt.
The bridge was demolished in December 2009 and construction started on a new bridge in June 2010.
The Lake Champlain Bridge Coalition still has plans for a series of events to celebrate the new span across the lake. The celebration is now slated for May 19 and 20, 2012.
There are plans for a parade across the bridge, a street dance, a 5-kilometer road race, fireworks, a boat flotilla led by the Lois McClure and a visit from an Army Blackhawk helicopter.
“This will allow us time for great fundraising and allow us to plan an even better event,” Hennessy said of the delay. “We’ll make lemonade out of lemons.”