Some Commutes Will Start By Ferry, End On New Bridge

11/07/11 7:34AM By Melody Bodette
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AP/Eric A. Besette
Officials say the new bridge over Lake Champlain will open next week.
(Host) Some commuters who travel between Vermont and New York will be in the unusual situation today of taking a ferry to work, but returning home on a bridge.

The new Lake Champlain Bridge between West Addison and Crown Point will open today with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

As VPR's Melody Bodette reports, people on both sides of the lake have been waiting for this day.

(Bodette) The Lake Champlain Bridge was 80-years old and discussion was already under way for its replacement when it closed suddenly in October 2009 after inspectors found cracks in the concrete piers.

The closure became a crisis for the 3-thousand commuters who relied on the span, and for the businesses on main roads to the bridge.

Just after the bridge closed, Lisa Cloutier of the Bridge Restaurant in West Addison said her business was devastated.

(Cloutier)  "A man walked into my restaurant, this past Friday, and made an announcement that, ‘If you're traveling over the bridge to New York, you better leave now because it's closing.'  I came out of the kitchen to an empty dining room and the panic had set in: The bridge is closing. The bridge is closing."

(Bodette) Large crowds gathered to watch as the bridge was demolished. Temporary ferry service allowed commuters to cross the lake, but at times that meant long waits.

Officials planned an aggressive construction schedule, but it was delayed when workers hit obstructions while drilling supports for the new piers. Then record spring floods further delayed work. The planned October 9th opening came and went but the barricades remained.

Lisa Cloutier says she's been in the business 16 years and this is a low point:

(Cloutier) "So the last two years with the combination of the economy, the bridge closing, and then the flooding in the spring, I mean, it's just been the worst two years I've ever had here."

(Bodette)  Now that the bridge is re-opening, she expects it will take a while for community members to return to their normal patterns:

(Cloutier) "I mean even me, I don't go to New York as often even though I'm right here in front of the ferry because I just don't want to deal with it."

(Bodette) Soon drivers will be traveling over a new safer bridge, with wider lanes. And the new span will be much more friendly to pedestrians. It will have sidewalks and wider shoulders for bicyclists.

Still for many commuters, the new opening couldn't have come soon enough. Elo McGlaughlin was thrilled the new bridge will open.

(McGlaughlin) "I said, ‘Oh my god. Oh my god,' because it was just so crazy."

(Bodette) McGlaughlin commutes between Crown Point and Vergennes. She says the ferry only ran every half hour at night and that created problems if she got called into work for emergencies. She's looking forward to the time saved not waiting for a ferry:

(McGlaughlin) "For me, it's a half an hour in the morning and a half an hour at night difference, so I'm saving an hour each day."

(Bodette) Work will continue on the site to take out temporary roads that lead to the ferry, remove landings, and restore grounds on both sides of the bridge.

For VPR News, I'm Melody Bodette.

(Host) The ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 2:30 this afternoon. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy are expected to attend.

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