For 80 years, the Champlain Bridge had weathered many a storm — along with supporting around 3,400 vehicles per day — as a key transportation link between Vermont and New York.
But the bridge’s history came to a very abrupt end in late December, when it was demolished to make way for a new span that is tentatively scheduled to be completed during the summer of 2011.
The Champlain Bridge was relegated to one-lane traffic this past summer to allow for some repairs. Coming as it did at the start of the Fourth of July weekend, this closing of one lane ruffled a lot of feathers. But New York and Vermont transportation officials permanently closed the span on Oct. 16, when its was discovered that two of the bridge’s concrete piers had sustained substantial erosion damage.
The bridge closure posed a sudden, major obstacle for hundreds of New Yorkers traveling to Addison County-based employers like Goodrich, Porter Medical Center, Middlebury College, the Counseling Service of Addison County and Country Home Products. State officials convinced owners of the Ticonderoga Ferry and Charlotte, Vt.-Essex, N.Y., ferry to extend their seasons to accommodate travelers who would otherwise have to make a 90-minute detour through Whitehall, N.Y. The Basin Harbor Club also initiated a limited passenger ferry service, while Addison County Transit Resources pitched in with expanded bus service.
Businesses close to the bridge — like The Bridge Restaurant and West Addison General Store — saw their receipts plummet with the loss of pass-by traffic. Area lawmakers proposed spending up to $1 million in federal stimulus money to help those and other suffering enterprises.
Meanwhile, transportation officials determined the Champlain Bridge was unsalvageable and put some engineers to work on a series of replacement options. Area residents and a public advisory committee picked a “modified, tied-arch bridge” design that is a somewhat futurist version of the old span. The new bridge is expected to cost between $65 million and $90 million, with work slated to begin next spring.
An Idaho-based firm demolished the bridge with a series of explosive charges on Dec. 28, a scene witnessed by thousands of spectators on both sides of the lake. Vermont Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, got the honor of triggering the massive detonation. Among the witnesses: Vergennes residents Al Abair and Bill Larrabee, who had been present when the Champlain Bridge was ceremoniously opened on Aug. 26, 1929.