ADDISON — After close to two years of separation, the shores of Crown Point, N.Y., and Addison, Vt., were once more connected last Friday when the center arch of the new Lake Champlain bridge was set in place.
And while there’s still a lot more work to be done before the bridge is completed, for the crowds that turned out to watch, the connection between the two states was a symbolic moment.
Early Friday afternoon, John Grady, a construction engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation, stood among the crowd on the New York side, watching crews prepare to lift the 1.8-million-pound arch into place.
“It’s certainly a substantial milestone,” he said.
Grady estimated that the project is about 80 percent finished — the exact timeline is still under negotiation.
Lorraine Franklin co-chairs the Lake Champlain Bridge Community (LCBC) panel, made up of New York and Vermont residents who were affected by the bridge’s closure on Oct. 16, 2009. Franklin, owner of the West Addison General Store, said the lines for the 24-hour temporary ferry on the site were unusually long.
“This is Friday afternoon traffic at 10 in the morning,” she said.
Franklin and other members of the group joined the foot traffic headed to the ferry to get a better view of the construction.
“We’ve been waiting for this for so long,” said Franklin.
THE GRAND VOYAGE
The arch began its journey from Velez Marine Services in Port Henry in the early hours of Friday morning. For the sake of speed, NYSDOT opted to build the arch off location, contracting with the marina to construct the network tied arch structure. This unusual bridge-building technique, Grady said, allowed for substantial work to be done at the same time on the support structure and the central arch.
“It’s much easier, cheaper and quicker than building on-site,” he said.
The 402-foot span floated downstream in a matter of hours, suspended between two barges and pulled by a tugboat. Once it arrived on location, workers set about anchoring the barges into the gap between the New York and Vermont spans and attaching the arch’s four outside corners to lifts set up on the edges of the existing pieces of the bridge.
Grady said the lifts are designed to hold 320 tons each, giving a combined capacity of nearly twice what the arch weighs.
As of Friday afternoon, lifting the entire arch was scheduled to take between four and six hours. Grady said the arch would be lifted above the level of the deck while beams are bolted below it. The arch was then to be lowered to rest atop those beams.
While the arch was scheduled to be in place and securely bolted by the end of Friday, Grady said teams of contractors would work throughout the weekend to further secure the bridge.
Then the work will enter the home stretch.
Grady said deck work will begin next on the arch span and the spans immediately extending from each side of the arch. The rest of the decking has been laid. Contractors will also build pedestrian sidewalks along the outside of the arch, and the finishing touches will be put in place.
Weather and construction delays have already set the project back. The $70 million bridge was originally scheduled to open in September, with a grand opening celebration in mid-October. Organizers from the LCBC, with no promise of an opening date, have postponed the celebration until May of 2012.
Though Grady said the exact date the bridge will open to traffic is still under negotiation, “we’re quite confident that it will be open this year.”
State Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, said from both a cost and the convenience perspective, she’s hoping for an opening before winter sets in. Otherwise, weather could cause additional delays, and the cost to run the 24-hour ferries throughout the winter would add more to the project’s price tag.
When the bridge does open, she said, it will be a relief to the many sectors that regularly used the span, including commuters, New Yorkers seeking health care in Vermont, fire departments with mutual aid agreements across the lake, and surrounding businesses. The old bridge’s closure in October of 2009 made many of these connections clear, and residents of both sides are looking forward to seeing the route restored.
“It’s really uncovered the economic linkages between both sides,” she said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.