Horace Hyle, who drove over the original bridge shortly after it was built in 1929, spoke Aug. 26 with Ted Zoli, the chief engineer of HNTB Corp., who designed the new bridge.
Government and corporate officials joined unaffiliated visitors the morning of Aug. 26 to witness history being made as the middle arch of the Lake Champlain bridge was ever-so-slowly lifted into place.
New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) Executive Deputy Commissioner Stanley Gee said reaching this “major milestone” was very satisfying.
Gee said his agency had not yet selected an opening date for the bridge, though it would be sometime this year.
“We’re in a part of the state where weather is a major factor,” Gee said. “We’re concerned about frost. It could happen anytime after Labor Day around here.”
The free ferry service currently in operation will be discontinued once the bridge is open to traffic, Gee said.
John Grady, NYSDOT regional construction engineer, said the transfer of the arch to the bridge site went faster than expected.
“We got out of the slips where it was going to be a problem – we thought – much quicker than we expected,” Grady said, adding the arch moved at a maximum of one knot per hour, which is the equivalent of 1.15 miles per hour.
Grady said the arch would be lifted into place using a strand jack.
“It’s a heavy cable lifting system with hydraulic rams that lift it up in increments,” Grady said. “It will lift it up about an 18 inch throw. Then it will lower itself, and do it again.”
Ted Zoli, the chief engineer of HNTB Corp., who designed the bridge, said the arch weighs about 900 tons, though it will weigh more when the concrete decks are in place.
As the arch was being prepared for lifting, Zoli said he was not ready to celebrate, being “a little superstitious.”
Horace Hyle, 96, of Greenville, Mass., said when he was 14 he traveled over the old bridge a couple months after it opened.
“I’ve always taken an interest in this bridge,” Hyle said. “I guess because I went over it when I was so young.”
Hyle described watching on his computer the old structure blow up as “an experience out of this world.” He added he’s visited Crown Point to see the progression of the bridge construction about six times.
Marilyn Crossman, a Crown Point resident and member of the Lake Champlain Community Bridge Celebration Committee, said her 86-year-old mother, now in a nursing home, came to the opening of the original bridge.
Crossman said she liked the design of the new structure.
“It’s going to be a brand new bridge, but it’s very reminiscent of the old bridge,” Crossman said. “At first I thought I was going to feel sad about it, and I don’t. It’s wonderful.”
Crossman said while she knew of people who were inconvenienced by the bridge closure, she had not been inconvenienced because she was retired.
“We had prayed in church on and off for two years, especially at the beginning, for people who were extending their workdays four and five hours,” Crossman said. “There were people in the area who just walked around looking like zombies.”
Katherine Vaillancourt, of Vt., said she had been camping in Crown Point for 20 years. She was unhappy to see the old bridge demolished.
“That made me pretty sad that day,” Vaillancourt said. “Because we’ve been over here so many times.”
Dorothy Galloway, of Walpole, NH, said she and her husband had come over the last couple years roughly every six weeks to see the structure’s progress.
“The fascination has really been to just watch the process of the bridge being built; this whole thing today is like the acme,” Galloway said.
Tom Henry, of Charlotte, Vt., said he also had a connection to the old structure.
“In 1929 my father was here for the opening of the previous bridge,” Henry said. “We’re just recreating a family tradition. It feels pretty cool.”
Henry said he owns a small camp on the New York side of the bridge which his family visits on weekends. The bridge closure only mildly extended what had been a 45 minute trip to an hour long one, which his family doesn’t mind.
“(But) we do hear the horror stories commuters are facing,” Henry said.
Chris Staffa, of Underhill, Vt., said he had been following the construction of the bridge almost since its inception.
“It’s really been interesting to see how it comes together on the ground,” Staffa said, adding that in particular he was looking forward to the lifting of the arch.
Pam Ketchum, who lives in both Chester and Port Henry, said she was attending the arch-lift out of historical interest.
“I think it’s just thrilling actually,” Ketchum said. “It’s just to me so monumental.”