CROWN POINT - After more than 80 years of service to millions of motorists, the Lake Champlain Bridge was blasted into history Monday morning.
The nation's first long-span continuous truss bridge met its demise Monday as 2.2 million tons of steel and asphalt fell into the lake, surrounded by a billowing cloud of dark smoke.
Closed to traffic Oct. 16 after structural problems were discovered, the Champlain Bridge was demolished Monday - with about 500 simultaneous explosive charges - to make way for a new span.
But although two viewing areas were set up by state officials for the public to view the historic demolition event, hundreds of would-be spectators were frustrated Monday because the bridge implosion was obscured by falling snow and dense fog.
Downstate resident Steve Demming was one of the hundreds who traveled from afar to see the implosion, but missed seeing the blast - although he was standing less than a mile from the bridge - because of the weather. Moments after the blast, he was unaware the bridge had been blown up and fallen into the lake until media representatives announced it had just happened.
"I didn't see it, I didn't hear it," Demming said. "It should have been a big red flash in the air, but I didn't see anything."
Denton Publications employee Nancy Frasier, however, did witness and record the blast. She was standing in a nearer spot - at the Crown Point Historic Site - reserved for media photographers.
"After all these years to see it come down like that was sad," Frasier said.
Construction of a new bridge is planned to start in the spring with completion targeted for summer 2011.
A new ferry service is being readied near the former bridge in Crown Point to serve motorists while a new structure is engineered and constructed. The Ticonderoga ferry is also running with the help of anti-ice measures.
The Lake Champlain Bridge opened Aug. 26, 1929, with two governors - New York's Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vermont's John L. Weeks - leading the festivities.
Monday's demolition was nearly as festive. Hundreds of people turned out in New York and Vermont to watch the bridge's implosion. Public viewing areas were set up at Port Henry Beach and Bulwagga Bay in New York as well as along Route 125 in Vermont.
The spectacle was televised live and broadcast on the Internet. The event was covered by more than 100 media representatives.
Sirens sounded at various intervals before the demolition to warn people of the blast, but many of those watching missed the actual explosion because it happened so quickly - in about two seconds.
Slow-motion replays of the event showed a series of 500 charges detonating along the 2,184-foot bridge and its collapse momentarily after Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas pressed the button that set off the explosives.
Some of those planning to watch the event decided not to to attend because of the conditions.
Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider stayed at home and watched it on television because of the limited visibility.
"It is sad to see the old bridge go down, but staying focused to the future, I am hopeful that the new bridge will move along as smoothly as the demolition," Kosmider said.
State officials have said that construction of a new bridge is expected to begin this spring, and it could be completed in 2011.
New York Gov. David Paterson said the demolition is a key step in restoring normal traffic to the region.
"We continue to move as quickly as possible to restore the vital connection between our states, and resume normal transportation across Lake Champlain on behalf of those who live near and depend on it in their daily lives," Paterson said.
"The bridge coming down weighs heavy on our hearts, but it is a critical task that is now completed," he said, noting that the former bridge had outlived its lifespan. "Once the new bridge is built, we will have an even more majestic connection between our states, and the communities in the surrounding areas will benefit from a span that will be more modern, but will preserve the environmental and historical integrity of the area," he said.
Roads leading to the bridge were closed to the public. A safety zone of 1,000 feet was established for land access and a 2,000 foot no-fly zone was declared by the Federal Aviation Association.
The demolition was handled by Advanced Explosives Demolition, Inc. of Idaho.
DOT officials said that work will begin immediately in removing the steel and other wreckage from the lake. In order to protect the public during the debris removal, the United States Coast Guard has established a water safety zone of a minimum of 1,000 feet on either side of the bridge.
No vessels, vehicles or people are permitted within the area without Coast Guard approval through April 15 to allow the channel to be cleared.