CROWN POINT - Ferry service is now operating near the site of the former Lake Champlain Bridge.
New York Gov. David Paterson visited the site Jan. 24 to announce the service and issue an apology.
"I want to apologize to those on both sides of the lake for this situation," he said. "This has been more than a loss of a bridge. It's the loss of a way of life for the last eight decades."
Paterson said the Crown Point ferry will help bring normalcy to the local residents, but he vowed to press forward on the construction of a new span.
"Only a new bridge will restore economic development and give a new quality of life to those who live and work on the shores of Lake Champlain," the governor said.
The Lake Champlain Bridge, which connects Crown Point and Chimney Point, Vt., closed Oct. 16 when engineers deemed it structurally unsafe. Opened in 1929, it was demolished Dec. 21 to make way for a new bridge, which is expected to be completed by summer 2011.
More than 4,000 vehicles a day used the bridge.
"The free ferry service will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the new bridge opens," Paterson said.
The ferry will accommodate 50 cars each trip and will be operated by the Lake Champlain Ferry Transportation Co.
The press conference featured remarks by Paterson, Gee, New York State Sen. Betty Little, New York Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider, Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary David Dill and Vermont Rep. Diane Lanpher.
Each took a turn thanking commuters for their patience and praising each other - particularly Paterson - for reacting to the situation so quickly.
"The bridge closure has turned lives upside down," Little said. "Things won't return to normal until the new bridge is built and opened, but today marks a significant step forward to help commuters, families, farmers, businesses and others who have been enduring a very difficult situation since Oct. 16. Working with Gov. Paterson, administration officials and state and local representatives, I look forward to seeing quick progress on building a new bridge. I do want to take this opportunity that recognize and thank the workers who have put in the long hours of tough work to make this ferry service possible." Sayward said, "I am very pleased with this ferry becoming operational, and thank Gov. Paterson and the Department of Transportation, as well as Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and the Vermont Agency of Transportation, for their efforts on returning this vital inter-state lifeline. This is a huge step to alleviate the travel burdens for local communities in New York and Vermont, and I look forward to working with the governor to ensure that a permanent bridge is in place as soon as possible."
Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider said Paterson's visit was a sign of the governor's commitment to the area.
"I am so pleased that the governor took time from his overwhelming schedule to travel to Crown Point and speak to the people about the upcoming ferry service," she said. "I know we appreciate all the work and dedication that has gone into this endeavor. Our time has come."
Moriah Supervisor Thomas R. Scozzafava thanked the governor in prepared remarks.
"On behalf of our constituents I want to express our sincere thanks to Gov. Paterson for the caring and compassion that he has shown during this very difficult period," Scozzafava said. "The closure of the Lake Champlain Bridge has caused untold hardships for many, and the opening of the new ferry crossing will help provide much needed relief."
The governor outlined the steps taken by New York State government, which arranged for public transportation and set up an economic assistance program for businesses, since the bridge closure. But none of those steps are enough, he said, for commuters forced to drive an extra 100 miles to and from work and appointments.
Paterson then announced the expansion of New York's $2.94 million Lake Champlain Bridge Economic Assistance Program.
The Essex County Industrial Development Agency will manage a Community Loan Fund for businesses affected by the bridge closure, he said. More information is available by calling the Empire State Development at 1-800-782-8369 or by email at email@example.com People can also contact the Essex County IDA at 873-9114.
Business owners and industries affected by the Lake Champlain Bridge closure can also apply for economic assistance through the Retail Assistance Grant and Increased Travel Cost Grant/Transport Assistance Grant programs. Information on those programs is available online at www.empire.state.ny.us/ChamplainBridge/default.asp