Bridge demise noted

CROWN POINT - A community gathering to observe the first anniversary of closing the Champlain Bridge attracted more than 60 people Oct. 16.The bridge connecting Crown Point and Chimney Point, Vt., closed at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 16, 2009, and was later blown up by controlled explosive charges.One year later, the Lake Champlain Bridge Coalition held a ceremony nearby to honor the historic span that was opened in 1929.Former Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Brassard said she'd only been on the job a few weeks when she learned the bridge had been shut down."I remember the weekend being spent in a flurry of panic as the realization set in - the closing of the bridge was not going to be short-lived."The bridge was closed after a state inspection showed its pillars severely deteriorated. Engineers decided it was too dangerous to repair.A free ferry at the bridge site runs 24 hours until the new bridge opens next fall, but adds at least a half hour to trips between New York and Vermont.Hundreds of people were stranded on one side of the lake or the other when the bridge closed, Brassard said."Nobody knew how long the closure would be, but it wasn't going to open back up immediately, and the big question of the moment was how to get home," Brassard said."That day, many commuters spent long hours on the road making the 90-mile trip around the lake."The Rev. David Hirtle, of the Crown Point First Congregational Church, said closing the bridge had a major impact on life in the Champlain Valley."In this last year, we've learned to get down on our hands and knees and crawl. This has been a year of transition."Bridge Coalition President Karen Hennessy of Crown Point said New York and Vermont residents made more than 1,500 daily trips across the bridge for work.Vermont House Representative Diane Lanpher said they're at the halfway point now."It has been a roller-coaster of a year."Crisis Program Advocacy Director Rich Couch praised the news media for publicizing the plight of those who need the bridge."I think without the media we wouldn't be here," Couch said. "One-hundred-eighty-nine bridges have been rated worse than your bridge. Some have been closed, some are still open. We have a lot of work to do. Our infrastructure needs help statewide."The New York State Department of Transportation and Vermont Agency of Transportation awarded a $70 million contract to Flatiron Bridge Constructors of Colorado to put up the new bridge.Starting a new bridge happened very quickly, thanks to everyone who got involved, Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider said."We marched on the capital. It's been a fantastic example of citizens taking control."Bridge Coalition member John Freilich of Bridport, Vt., said the group is constantly keeping tabs on what's going on with the bridge construction.He said people use the ferry when they have to, for work or medical care, but not for casual trips."The amount of traffic has slowed down. Attendance here (at Crown Point State Historic Site) has slowed down as a result. The ferry is not as convenient as having the bridge here."The new bridge is to open no later than Oct. 15, 2011, according to the DOT contract with Flatiron.

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