September 16, 2009

Champlain Bridge future debated

Span's condition worse than thought; 2-lane traffic resuming


ADDISON, Vt. — The committee advising a project to repair or replace the Champlain Bridge was told Wednesday that the span is in worse structural shape than was previously known.

The Champlain Bridge Project Public Advisory Committee gathered at the Addison, Vt., fire station to get an update from New York State Department of Transportation structural engineer Thomas Hoffman on the $1 million repair project that's under way.

"Is the bridge safe? It's safe for what it's doing," Hoffman said.

He said the bridge has problems with bearings, joints, main steel members and concrete, only some of which are getting fixed now.

He also revealed that the bridge, which now has only one lane open and is regulated by a temporary traffic light, will return to two-lane travel by the end of October.

The one-lane traffic that began in July has been a major inconvenience to the almost 5,000 drivers that a recent study showed use it every day.

The current work is only taking care of the significant safety issues, Hoffman said.

"We're finishing our chord (steel) repairs. Floor repairs are still going on. In the spring, the inspectors will come back out."

Deterioration of the bridge's riveted connecting plates and hanging straps is not being addressed with these repairs, he said.

The project to rehabilitate or replace the 2,184-foot-long bridge in 2013 is being developed under a bi-state agreement.

Hoffman said he didn't know if the bridge could be kept open during the construction project.

The committee will be looking at use of a temporary military bridge during construction, although that bridge would be lower and could impede boating traffic on the lake.

Ruth Fitzgerald, a planning consultant from Fitzgerald & Halliday of Hartford, Conn., ran the meeting.

She told committee members the choices are:

•  Rehabilitate the existing bridge.

•  Build a new bridge on the same location.

•  Build a new bridge at a different location.

•  Initiate year-round ferry service in lieu of a bridge.

"Many people don't feel a ferry is a reasonable alternative," Fitzgerald said. "We may take that off of there at some point."

The lead agencies for the project are the New York State DOT, Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, all of which had representatives at the committee meeting.

"The PAC (Public Advisory Committee) does not make decisions," Fitzgerald said. "The PAC makes recommendations to the lead agencies."

Those agencies will make the final decision on what to do about the bridge, she said.

"It's been a long road just to get to this point. Now we want to get the public-involvement process cranked up."

To that end, another public information meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at Addison Central School, 121 Route 17 in Addison, Vt.

Committee member Ann Cousins of the Preservation Trust of Vermont complained that some committee members were being left out of the information loop.

"Some PAC members gave interviews to the media in which they appeared to have information other PAC members don't have."

Fitzgerald said she doesn't think anyone had exclusive information, but "they may have drawn conclusions."

DOT Design Project Manager James Boni said his agency doesn't share information with some committee members and not others.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Design Project Manager Daniel Landry said the bridge project will be controversial.

"There'll be tons of rumors; be cautious."

E-mail Lohr McKinstry at: