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UPDATE: Safety concerns prompt Champlain Bridge closure

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Posted on October 19, 2009 |
By John S. McCright



ferry.JPG
CARS ARE BACKED up at the approach to the Fort Ti Ferry at Larrabee’s Point in Shoreham on Friday evening as commuters scrambled to get home after the Champlain Bridge at Addison was closed due to concerns about its structural safety. Photo by Pete Luff of Orwell

ADDISON — New York and Vermont transportation officials on Friday afternoon closed the Champlain Bridge because of safety concerns.

The move was taken after experts inspecting the 80-year-old span that links Addison, Vt., with Crown Point, N.Y., found a structural support that worried them.

“It was their decision to close it,” said John Zicconi, Vermont Agency of Transportation Director of Planning, Outreach and Community Affairs. Officials said two of the piers are deficient.

While Zicconi initially said the bridge would be closed indefinitely, he and officials from the New York State Department of Transportation later in the day described the closure as “temporary,” but they did not estimate when the bridge would be reopened.

“Both states recognize the importance of the bridge to commuters, truck companies, the farming community, emergency service providers and the public in general,” New York and Vermont officials said in a press release on Friday. “However, the bridge’s condition continues to be an issue and the recent findings present an unacceptable level of risk to the public. Analysis will continue and repair work alternatives will be evaluated.”

The bridge across Lake Champlain, also known as the Crown Point Bridge, was reduced to one-lane traffic in late June because of concerns about deteriorating steel trusses. Signals at either end of the span, a crucial link between Vermont and New York State used by up to 3,600 vehicles a day, allowed eastbound and westbound traffic to take turns crossing Lake Champlain.

Friday afternoon transportation officials were setting up an official detour that would take motorists to the southern end of the lake at Fair Haven, Vt., and Whitehall, N.Y. — a 76-mile detour. Ferries also run between Charlotte, Vt., and Essex, N.Y., to the north and Shoreham, Vt., and Ticonderoga, N.Y., to the south.

The companies that run both of those ferries said on Friday they would expand their respective services to accommodate heavier demand. Michael and Alison Matot at the Fort Ti Ferry said they would extend both their hours and their season.

Lake Champlain Ferries said they would return to a busier summer schedule and run earlier trips leaving Charlotte at 5 a.m. and Essex, N.Y., at 5:30 a.m.

There were backups of cars at the Fort Ti Ferry on Friday as commuters sought alternate routes home that evening.

On Oct. 8, transportation officials from both states held an information meeting in Addison to begin planning for a major refurbishment of the 2,184-foot bridge, a project tentatively slated for completion in 2015.

While design for the project is still several years off, transportation officials at that meeting were soliciting public feedback on the huge undertaking.

They said replacement of the bridge would likely cost upwards of $50 million (with 80 percent of that federal money, 10 percent from New York, and 10 percent from Vermont), according to very preliminary estimates. But authorities stressed that replacement is but one of several potential remedies for the span. Transportation officials, in concert with the public, will also consider rehab of the current bridge; erecting a new span at a different location; and even implementing a ferry system in lieu of a bridge.

NYSDOT project manager Jim Boni said “close to $1 million” in repairs have been made to steel elements of the Champlain Bridge just this year. And both the NYSDOT and the Vermont Agency of Transportation are proposing a paint project in 2010, estimated at $6 million.

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