CROWN POINT — Almost 1,000 people turned out Monday to cheer the opening of the new Champlain Bridge.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy gave speeches praising bridge workers for a good job and commuters for enduring hardships for more than two years, after the old bridge was closed.
The two walked part of the way across the bridge from the New York side, then rode the rest of the distance into Vermont on the running boards of a 1920s antique car.
Duffy said he saw a lot of anger and emotion over the closing of the original bridge, but that turned to action.
"This is a great day for the State of New York and the State of Vermont. This is nothing short of a miracle, because two great teams worked together. Behind me is a living, breathing miracle of the skills we have in the construction trade."
Shumlin said the bridge was built "quickly and effectively" because of interstate cooperation.
"The local communities joined hands and said, 'We've got a problem to solve, and we're going to solve it together.'
"That's the way to work."
The new bridge has an estimated life of 75 years, Shumlin noted.
"This bridge will be here forever because of technology and good craftsmanship. We should give all of them a hand."
Rows of white chairs and a portable podium were set up at the approach to the bridge on the Crown Point side. Speakers included State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro), Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), Vermont Rep. Diane Lanpher (D-Addison) and others.
"I want to start out by saying thank you to the residents of this community for your patience," said Vermont Agency of Transportation Deputy Secretary Susan Minter.
"We feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, however, we also know what a challenging time it has been for so many people," she continued. "We want to acknowledge the hardships so many people have endured.
"Today, your long wait to be reconnected with one another is over. We are here to celebrate a new beginning and to reunify these two states."
'A BIG MOMENT'
Crown Point Town Supervisor Bethany Kosmider said her community was deeply affected by loss of the old bridge.
"Today's ribbon-cutting is a big moment for all of us in Crown Point, who have been two years without a bridge. While the ferry service has helped, it has been difficult for commuters to judge how long it will take them to get to work, and the bridge's absence has hurt local businesses."
The ferry added at least half an hour to what had been a 30-second drive across the bridge, and Kosmider said the new bridge will be a major boost to the local economy.
The original Champlain Bridge opened in 1929 and was closed in October 2009 after deep cracks were discovered in its support pillars. It was destroyed by controlled explosives in December 2009, and construction of the new bridge began in spring 2010.
The new span is eight stories high and 402 feet long. A free 24-hour ferry that has been running alongside the structure suspended operations soon after the opening Monday. The ferry, operated by Lake Champlain Transportation Co. and paid for by New York state, started a couple months after the old bridge closed.
Champlain Bridge Coalition Co-Chair Lorraine Franklin said bridge contractor Flatiron Construction was committed to the project.
"They only missed the target date by a few weeks, and that is a miracle."
The Colorado firm expected to open the bridge Oct. 9, but spring flooding delayed work about a month.
Gov. Andy Cuomo couldn't make the ceremony due to another commitment, but his office issued a release saying the bridge cost $76 million.
Flatiron bid about $70 million for the contract, and change orders added another $6 million, DOT officials said.
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald acted as moderator for the ceremony.
"We are dedicated to the growth and revitalization of our economy," she said. "The result is here before us, standing beautiful in this historic lake."
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