While determining a design for the new Lake Champlain Bridge, Theodore “Ted” Zoli, vice president and technical director for HNTB Corp., hoped to re-illustrate the pre-existing bridge with a long-lasting, modern design.
“I think it’s a modern looking design that tends to be safer and has a longer durability than the bridge it replaced,“ Zoli said.
The Lake Champlain Bridge lasted 80 years before it was declared unsafe by the department of transportation in 2009.
Zoli graduated from Princeton University. He received a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly referred to as the “genius award” for his work. Zoli, who said he competed along side other engineers for the project, was chosen as the lead engineer for his concept of the Modified Tied Arch design . The design was agreed upon out of six options by both the Vermont and New York State public.
Zoli said one of the reasons he solicited the bridge project was because of his local ties to the area.
“I’ve been up and down the Adirondack Park,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of my life there.”
Zoli was born in Schroon Lake in 1965. He attended Camp Dudley in Westport as a kid. In 1969 he moved to the Glens Falls area. Zoli worked with his dad in upstate New York on engineering jobs such as heavy road construction.
A bridge a cross Lake Champlain had a visual opportunity along with a strong presence in the region, which had contributed to his interest in the project, he said.
Zoli said, growing up, he was always interested in the process of structural engineering. He said any bridge not only has to be clear to the eye but they have a lot to live up to in terms of efficiency
“Bridges are possibly the most pure structure of engineering there is,” he said. “A bridge’s structural system is always on display. Your pushing structural systems to stand longer with less materials.”
Zoli, who was lead speaker for the Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Days, said he had attended public meetings for the bridge where locals discussed what would become of the historical landmark. He said so much of the local population were concerned for the design process, such as the Public Advisory Committee (PAC), Historic Preservation Community, and the public. Zoli specifically mentioned Steve Engelhart, executive director for the Adirondack Architectural Heritage Center (AARCH) of Keeseville. Engelhart had advocated the bridge be preserved, not destroyed.
“It was like losing something extremely special and really irreplaceable,” he said. “ We simply wanted to make sure rehabilitating the 1929 bridge was looked at thoroughly,” he said.
Although the state decided against rehabilitating the bridge, Engelhart was able to get the landmark listed on the National Register of Historical Places, which validated the importance of the 1929 bridge as a place and/or structure to the region.
“I still think, every time I look at that crossing, that something really important is missing.”
Zoli said by designing a new bridge that echoed, at least in its profile, the original bridge was no accident. He hoped to retain the influence the original bridge made 80 years ago.
The original architect, Charles M. Spofford used freed trusses, which was a new and creative form of engineering for the time, he said. The 1929 design sparked a period that advanced the use of criss-crossed steel girders around the region. After surviving 80 years over water, Zoli said it was not so much the trusses but the piers that had caused the bridge to be declared unsafe.
“(Spofford) not only created a new bridge form, he developed a design method to analyze the system of engineering.” Zoli said. “There’s a responsibility that one tries to live up to the importance of the original bridge that your replacing.”
Zoli said not only has bridge been a success in terms of progress, it has been cost effective for both states. Building the structure first on land in Port Henry had provided some cost savings. While the tied arch bridge design wasn’t the least expensive out of all six choices, it was an efficient choice, he said.
“I would like to think we got a lot of value for an interesting structure,“ he said.
The site demands a bridge, Zoli said, not only for the community but also for its historical significance that can be found on both sides of the bridge. Also, placing the new bridge along the same alignment was to alleviate the amount of time it would take to replace it.
“It was the only real strategy for a quick fix,” he said.
Ted Zoli will be speaking at Camp Dudley on Sunday, Aug. 21, at 1 p.m. in the Witherbee Hall. Zoli designed the Champlain Bridge currently being constructed in Crown Point and is a Camp Dudley alumni