CROWNPOINT, N.Y.-When the Lake Champlain Bridge linking Crown Point and Addison, Vt., closed in 2009, it was more than a structural failure. It was a human tragedy.
That's the premise of a book written by Crown Point author Jean Arleen Breed.
"The Loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge: A Traveler's Story" uses poetry and color photographs to chronicle the human story of those coping with the sudden loss of a vital link between New York State and Vermont.
"I never want to forget the impact this bridge closing had on thousands of people in the Champlain Valley," Breed said. "Lives changed, businesses struggled and people were tested.
"I never want to forget the courage and conviction of these people as they watched their businesses struggle to survive, their farms barely hang on and the worker commutes turn into this daily four-hour odyssey," she said. "This story tells about those people and what they did to defend their right to continue life as they knew it for the last 80 years. The bridge was built, a way of life was built around that bridge and then - suddenly - that bridge was gone and our entire valley was impacted."
The Lake Champlain Bridge was immediately closed in October 2009 when state transportation officials, without warning, declared it unsafe. 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.
Breed was one those who used the bridge and was forced to drive the 100-mile detour.
"I never want to forget driving a thousand miles a week to work, getting in that long, dark line of cars at 4 on snowy winter mornings, seeing the ferry crew get out the life jackets on the little ferry because the ice had such a grip on all of us, spinning out my Jeep on icy roads and thanking God we didn't hit a phone pole or a tree and we could be here to drive another day," Breed said.
A new bridge is now being constructed. It is scheduled to open this October.
At the opening ceremonies for the new bridge Breed will read "The Journey," the final poem in the book.
"While some went out and fought the fight to get our bridge replaced, I had to go to work each day - so I did what I could," Breed said. "I wrote them all some poems and now I write our story. Somebody once told me that I was a folksy writer and I'm happy to say I am. Here is my folksy little book and photos and poems. I hope people enjoy them. I just had to tell this story.
"This is our story about what happened during this time in the Champlain Valley," she added. "Maybe in 100 years another person who lives here will read my words and know what took place here during 2009, 2010 and 2011. They will know of the courage of the people who lived here then."
"The Loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge: A Traveler's Story" is available locally at Sagan's in Port Henry, Sherman Free Library in Port Henry, Frenchman's Restaurant, in Crown Point, Norm's Bait & Tackle in Crown Point, Amy's Hair Design in Vergennes, Vt., Country Florist in Ticonderoga and Vermont's Own, West Addison, Vt. It also available online at The North Country Store, www.bloatedtoe.com/store/home.php
The price is $15.
Breed said the book focuses on the link between the two affected states.
"We came to realize that there was one heart beating in this valley," she said. "We so relied on each other - jobs, businesses, farms, hospitals, colleges - everything that made up our day-to-day life was tied to that bridge and we didn't realize it until the bridge was gone. The bridge was the link that held us all together and without that link we fell apart, but not for long. The heart and spirit of the people who live here came together to rally and fight to get a new bridge built, a daunting task in this economy."
The book is also a cautionary tale, Breed said. She pointed to the Minneapolis Interstate 35W Bridge that collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145.
"There are 93 bridges in New York State with a current safety rating at or below that given to the Lake Champlain Bridge prior to closure in October of 2009," the author noted.
Breed has written two other books. "Poems from the Champlain Valley" is due for release in summer 2011. "Paper Girl" will be released next year.