Harrison Rich, a sixth grade student at Moriah Central School, was officially the first person to cross the new Champlain Bridge when it opened Nov. 7. He was honored recently by New York Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, center, and Vermont House Rep. Diane Lanpher.
Harrison Rich wanted a place in history. Nov. 7 he got it.
Rich, a sixth grade student at Moriah Central School, was officially the first person to cross the new Champlain Bridge when it opened Nov. 7.
“I thought it would be pretty cool to be the first one across the bridge; to have a place in history,” he said. “I did it.”
Rich’s accomplishment came after days of planning.
“My father and I went to the bridge the day before it opened so I could be the first across, but we couldn’t get over it,” said Rich, the son of Dallas and Staley Rich of Port Henry. “But the day the bridge opened my mom took me and told me to go ahead.”
Rich methodically worked his way through the crowd until he was standing directly behind the dignitaries attending the formal ribbon cutting ceremony on the Crown Point side of the span. There he encountered Vermont House Rep. Diane Lanpher.
“I was placing my coat on a chair and he was right there,” Lanpher recalled of Rich at the ceremony. “He told me he wanted to be the first person across the bridge. I told him as soon as the ribbon was cut to go for it.”
Rich did, running as hard as he could to beat the crowd. Nearing the end of the nearly half mile bridge he tired and began to walk.
“I had to start running again,” he said. “I was afraid someone would catch me and get across first.”
No one did.
Rich was recognized for his accomplishment during a ceremony at Moriah Central School Jan. 12.
Lanpher presented Rich with a framed photo of him running across the span that day.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward of New York gave Rich a certificate from the state Assembly marking his feat.
“People who have dreams and initiative will be the leaders of tomorrow,” Sayward said. “Harrison certainly had a dream and he made it come true.”
Lanpher told students how she and Sayward worked with many others to make the new bridge a reality. The belief their work was important carried them though difficult times, she said.
“I’m inspired by this young man,” Lanpher said of Rich. “We believed we could build a bridge. He believed he could be the first one across. People who believe can accomplish great things.”
The old Lake Champlain Bridge was immediately closed Oct. 16, 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.
A temporary ferry service was installed to link Crown Point and Addison, Vt.
The bridge was demolished in December 2009 and construction started on a new bridge in June 2010. The new bridge opened Nov. 7, 2011.
As part of the program honoring Rich, Lanpher and Sayward answered students’ questions about the bridge. Students seemed particularly interested in the cost of the project.
Estimates for a new bridge and the temporary ferry service were $81 million, Lanpher said. The actual cost will be about $120 million. Estimates for the bridge construction alone, she said, were $69 million. The final cost will be about $74 million.
Sayward praised Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and New York Gov. David Paterson, both now out of office, for their help in expediting the bridge replacement.
“The loss of the bridge was a huge tragedy for our communities,” Val Stahl, Moriah Elementary School principal, said. “It affected all of us, our parents, our families. We want to thank Assemblywoman Sayward and Rep. Lanpher for facilitating the building of a new bridge in such a fast manner.”