CROWN POINT - State legislators and town supervisors are calling for the construction of a temporary pontoon bridge across Lake Champlain and a Gubernatorial emergency declaration following the Oct. 16 closure of the Crown Point Bridge.
But state officials remain non-committal.
The Crown Point Bridge - which allows 4,000 cars a day to travel between New York and Vermont - was closed last Friday after state Department of Transportation officials discovered inclined cracks in the supporting piers.
Town supervisors and state legislators have labeled the bridge closure an emergency that threatens the local economy. Officials say hundreds face job loss if a solution is not found.
For state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, only one course of action will salvage the economies of the surrounding communities, but the state may have other ideas in mind.
"I can tell you what we think the solution is," Sayward said. "That's a temporary bridge."
Following a closed-door meeting with officials from numerous state agencies Monday, state Senator Betty Little said that she is currently imploring Governor David Paterson to declare Essex County in a state of emergency.
But getting that designation has proven tricky.
"They are looking at what the impact is. They don't need an emergency declaration to repair the current bridge," Little said. "They are waiting to see the impact and we have seen that. A woman who needed chemo waited three hours for the ferry."
On Monday morning, the Essex County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed a resolution urging the governors of both states to declare the bridge closing an emergency.
Supervisors repeatedly hammered the state for years of inaction as the bridge deteriorated, while continually reiterating the importance the bridge plays in the lives of local residents.
According to Essex County Transportation Coordinator Nancy Dougal, between 1,000 and 1,500 Essex County residents are employed in Vermont and cross the bridge daily.
At present, local residents who must cross for work or access to one of the Burlington area hospitals must use one of the two ferries. And since the bridge closure, waiting for hours to get on a ferry has become common.
Officials said that an emergency declaration would clear much of the red-tape surrounding historic preservation issues at or near the site.
In a bizarre twist, the Crown Point Bridge was officially declared a state Historic Site Monday.
According to State Emergency Management Office Director John Gibb, the focus is on fixing the old bridge and an emergency declaration wouldn't expedite that process at all.
"The governor is prepared to declare a state disaster emergency is that's going to be needed to speed things along," Gibb said. "But right now, as for the state DOT, that doesn't quicken the work they are doing right now."
Officials noted that an emergency declaration would instead significantly reduce the red tape surrounding the construction of a new bridge and the state is not yet committed to that direction.
Gibb said that all state agencies are attempting to find the best solution to the bridge closure, but that rushing into an action like building a temporary floating bridge requires significant analysis.
"I am not a temporary bridge expert, but I can tell you that our structures people at DOT are looking at the viability and the alternatives associated with temporary bridges," Gibb said.
Sayward noted that using either of the ferries would result in a cost of between $230 and $500 a month.
And their claims aren't without merit.
Cindy Bodette is a Crown Point restaurant owner. She said she has seen her business drop over 40 percent since the bridge closed and that's not even the worst of it as her daughter and son-in-law work in Vermont and rely on the bridge to get and from work each day.
"She waited for an hour and a half for that ferry and that is not acceptable," she said. "She only makes $13 an hour anyway, she can't afford the ferry and her husband does shift work in Vermont and he doesn't get out until midnight. The ferry doesn't run at midnight."
Gibb indicated that it would likely take several months before a permanent or temporary solution is reached.
Until then the businesses and residents who rely on the Crown Point Bridge for work or medical appointments will have to grin and bare it.