CROWN POINT - Help may be coming for New York commuters affected by the Lake Champlain Bridge closure.
Local and state officials are investigating ways to provide financial relief to those who face the added expense of a longer drive to and from work.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava has suggested the money used to operate the Ticonderoga ferry - $17,000 a day - be used to mitigate the financial stress of the bridge closure. The Ti ferry closed Jan. 3 for the season.
"Whether it's a possibility, I don't know," Scozzafava said. "But it's worth exploring. I don't want to build up people's hopes."
New York State is already providing financial assistance to businesses impacted by the situation.
"I think it's fine that there is relief for businesses," Scozzafava said, "but a lot of individuals are suffering, too. Some are spending an extra $200-$300 a week in extra gasoline and day care. They need help.
"For hundreds of people this is a daily nightmare," he added.
Scozzafava's proposal has the support of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
"I am a proponent of this idea and hope that this a viable plan," Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider said. "Nancy Dougal of the Essex County Transportation Department is looking into reimbursement for commuters that have been disadvantaged by the closing of the Lake Champlain Bridge."
It's not as simple as moving the money from one account to another, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward explained. The money used to operate the ferry was federal assistance and the federal government would have to approve any relief plan for individuals.
The federal government is now paying for bridge alternatives, such as the bus service now running from local communities to the Essex ferry.
"It's a very complex situation," Sayward said. "When we fix one part, we don't want to hurt another. More and more people are riding the bus, we don't want to take action that will hurt that effort."
Sayward is concerned the federal government could stop funding the bus service if it uses money to help individual motorists.
The bus service doesn't work for everyone, Sayward acknowledged. People working odd shifts, especially those at Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, aren't helped by the bus.
Sayward would like to see financial relief for a limited group - those with no alternatives but to drive themselves.
"I think we have a much better opportunity of making this work if we target a specific group," Sayward said.
Sayward said she is in daily contact of state Department of Transportation officials who are discussing individual financial relief with the federal government. If the federal money is available for individual assistance, she said, things will happen quickly.
"When we get the 'yes' word we're ready to go," Sayward said.
She credited Scozzafava with keeping the needs of commuters in the minds of state and federal officials.
"Tom's been a champion on this issue," she said.
At the same time Sayward said she and others are working to make certain a new ferry service near the site of the former bridge will be open by Jan. 31.
"That's what we need," the assemblywoman said. "Getting that ferry in place will solve a lot of problems."
The Lake Champlain Bridge was closed Oct. 16 when an inspection deemed it unsafe. There are plans for a new bridge, but that construction isn't expected to be complete until summer of 2011.
About 4,000 people a day used the old bridge, which was demolished Dec. 21.