Standing next to the Essex County Visitors Center at Crown Point, a father and son watch Flatiron Construction workers build the Lake Champlain Bridge on Sunday, Oct. 9, the day the bridge was originally slated to open. Due to delays, the bridge is now expected to open Monday, Nov. 7.
The Lake Champlain Bridge will be open to vehicular traffic Monday, Nov. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office confirmed Thursday evening, Nov. 3.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony in commemoration of the long-awaited bridge opening will take place at 2:30 p.m. Monday, the governor's office reported. New York State Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy is expected to attend the ceremony along with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and other dignitaries from both New York and Vermont.
In a prepared statement, Cuomo said, "The opening of a new bridge over Lake Champlain is great news for residents and businesses in the North Country who depend upon this bridge and have been inconvenienced by its closure. When the bridge was closed and demolished in 2009, it was estimated to take eight years to rebuild. I am pleased to announce that thanks to the hard work and dedication of our federal, state, and local partners, the bridge is opening far earlier than planned. Today's announcement demonstrates that government can work effectively and efficiently for the people. I thank the New York State Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and our partners in Vermont for their assistance in building this bridge, which will help revitalize local economies and strengthen the relationship between our two states."
The news comes two days after DOT officials refused to give an opening date for the new Lake Champlain Bridge. As Flatiron Construction crews make final adjustments to the lighting and pour concrete between the pre-cast deck panels and sidewalk panels of the bridge, DOT Senior Public Information Officer Carol Breen said Nov. 1 that work continued and she expected the span to open sometime before the end of 2011.
Asked what needed to happen in order for DOT officials to pick an official opening date, Breen said, “There’s no magic point we have to get to ... We are getting closer and closer every day.”
Earlier this year, DOT and Flatiron officials had publicized an opening date of Oct. 9 for the span, and the Lake Champlain Bridge Community (LCBC) — representing interests in New York and Vermont — set a weekend-long celebration for Oct. 15-16. After record-breaking floods on Lake Champlain delayed construction in April and May, the DOT gave Flatiron a 65-day extension to finish the bridge. By mid-August, the DOT had backed off its Oct. 9 opening, and the LCBC’s celebration was postponed until May 19-20, 2012. Since August, the DOT has been reluctant to set a official opening date.
One reason? Mother Nature. While the work is going smoothly now, the construction is “dependent on the weather,” Breen said. Flatiron’s 65-day extension runs out on Tuesday, Dec. 13. Now the company will be finished five weeks ahead of the current deadline. There is an incentive clause in Flatiron’s construction agreement that gives the company $30,000 a day for every day it finishes the bridge ahead of time. Likewise, Flatiron would have been charged $30,000 a day for every day it finished the bridge past the deadline.
As for the free, 24-hour ferry service currently provided between New York and Vermont next to the bridge site, Breen said the Lake Champlain Transportation Company will be required to close those operations as soon as vehicles are allowed to cross the bridge. The ferry service was designed to be temporary.
Within a day of the bridge opening, Flatiron workers will begin removing the New York ferry landing, which was set up to begin transporting motorists between the states on Feb. 1, 2010. The water infrastructure will be removed this year, and the land infrastructure — including the ferry road — will be removed in the spring, according to Breen.
“We have to restore everything to the way it was before the project,” Breen said, explaining that DOT officials try to be sensitive, in cases like this, where there are significant archeological and historic sites.
Separate contracts for ferry site restoration are being let for both sides of the lake.
The original Lake Champlain Bridge opened on Aug. 26, 1929, was closed on Oct. 16, 2009, and was destroyed by explosives on Dec. 28, 2009. Flatiron Construction was awarded the contract to build the new bridge on May 27, 2010.
The Lake Champlain Bridge Coalition posted a comment on its Facebook page the afternoon of Nov. 3, stating, "IT'S OFFICIAL!!!!!!! The news we've been waiting to hear! The ribbon-cutting for the new bridge will be this Monday, Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m.!!!!! No details are available yet, but we will post them as soon as we have them. Many, many thanks to VT Gov. Peter Shumlin's office and VAOT for keeping us in the loop when no one else would."