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October 21, 2009

Paterson declares emergency over Champlain Bridge

NY joins Vermont in declaring Champlain Bridge an emergency

CROWN POINT — Gov. David Paterson has declared a state disaster for Essex County over closure of the Champlain Bridge, which is expected to expedite repairs and financial relief.

The response echoes a similar declaration Tuesday by Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas.

At Paterson's direction, New York has established a toll-free hot line for residents and businesses and opened an outreach center at the Visitor's Center, the former tollhouse beside the bridge.

"The closure of the Lake Champlain bridge has disrupted the lives of many North Country residents and has affected their businesses," Paterson said in a statement.

"I am firmly committed to protecting the safety of those who drive across the bridge daily. With this disaster declaration, we are working to expedite repairs and to provide the highest level of assistance possible to the community."

FIRST STEPS

Timothy Gilchrist, chairman of Paterson's Economic Recovery Cabinet, traveled to the bridge Wednesday to announce measures under way to repair it and at the same time assess lake-crossing travel alternatives.

Disaster declaration means the state is relieved from normal contract bid obligations.

Gilchrist said engineers from the major U.S. firm HNTB are assessing concrete in the piers, taking core samples ahead of a long-term solution.

Meanwhile, Lake Champlain Transportation Co. reviewed options for adding a ferry crossing in Crown Point.

The state has contacted bridge manufacturing companies and the U.S. Army to source options for a temporary bridge.

Acting New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Stanley Gee contacted the Federal Highway Administration, requesting federal assistance to repair the Champlain Bridge.

Paterson has also requested a complete review of the bridge inspection process that ended with the abrupt closure.

Engineering review takes time, but officials are not sure how much.

"We can give you a time frame when we can be sure of that time frame," Gilchrist said.

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