New York Governor David A Paterson and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas have received a report from their states’ respective transportation agencies which finds that it is not feasible to rehabilitate the Lake Champlain Bridge. Engineers have declared that the 80-year-old span is too unstable to be renovated, and recommend demolishing the bridge for the safety of motorists and boaters. The states will accept these recommendations based on the overwhelming safety issues enumerated in the report and will begin planning the construction of a new bridge in its place. We expect the Federal Highway Administration to concur with this recommendation based on their preliminary review of the report.
Vermont Secretary of Transportation David Dill speaks at the November 9, 2009, press conference at which New York Commissioner of Transportation Stanley Gee (right) announced that the Champlain/Crown Point Bridge and its piers are too deteriorated to repair. Behind are NYTrans employees with posters illustrating the bridge's structure and the nature of the damage.
Workers on a barge where engineers were making test borings to determine the amount of support for a temporary ferry dock off Chimney Point. The wind on the lake, shown here by the flag on the ferry, is one of the forces that might help bring on a sudden collapse of the Champlain Bridge, according to New York officials. Photos by Ed Barna
An underwater inspection of the bridge’s concrete piers and underlying foundations found cracks and significant deterioration in the non-reinforced concrete substructures well below the water level that render these supports so fragile that a sudden collapse could occur.
“Safety was our primary concern when we closed the Lake Champlain Bridge last month and it is our chief interest now,” Governor Paterson said. “We must make a decision that protects those who cross the bridge, as well as workers and engineers, and therefore we have no choice but to tear down the dangerously deteriorated bridge. Both states are committed to moving quickly to reestablish the critical link by building a new bridge in this corridor to serve commuters, farms and businesses.”
“Reports indicate that the bridge is highly unstable and our harsh winter will only aggravate its condition. For everyone’s safety, the bridge must be dismantled in a controlled fashion quickly so that a replacement bridge can be erected in its place,” Governor Douglas said. “In the meantime, both states are working to install temporary ferry service as close to the bridge as possible so that motorists can once again begin crossing Lake Champlain between Addison and Crown Point.”
The Governors also announced that ferry service will be established near the existing bridge. That effort has been fast-tracked, and the new service will be in place as quickly as possible.
Stanley Gee, Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), said: “Now that the analysis is completed and the bridge has been found unstable, we can work quickly to demolish the existing bridge and accelerate the process for building a permanent replacement. We look forward to restoring vehicle and pedestrian traffic across the lake. In order to preserve and protect the historically and environmentally sensitive areas on both side of Lake Champlain, we plan to build the replacement bridge as close to the existing location as is possible.”
David Dill, Vermont’s Secretary of Transportation, said: “We will begin the process of working on a new bridge immediately. The bridge closure significantly disrupted communities on both sides of the lake, and the fastest way to return families, businesses and farms back to normal is to quickly provide them a new bridge.”
On October 16, inspectors in consultation with engineers determined that the bridge was unsafe for use and it was closed to protect the public. A detailed review and underwater inspection of the bridge’s concrete substructure was ordered, and HNTB, NYSDOT's design consultant, is now finalizing a report based on the accelerated underwater inspection. The report outlines significant safety issues that would be associated with any potential bridge repair plan. The severity of deterioration to the piers would put contractors and engineers working in close proximity to the bridge in great danger. Cracks in the piers caused by repeated freeze-thaw cycles have made the structure too fragile to guarantee workers’ safety. Oncoming winter weather conditions, including wind, freezing temperatures, snow and ice, only heighten concerns.
According to the report’s Executive Summary, “If any major cracks were to develop diagonally in the pier or deterioration reduces the contact bearing area between concrete segments, the pier could fail without warning. The risk and safety for personnel working in close proximity to the existing, fragile bridge is too great to permit rehabilitation in any form. Moving forward, the existing bridge should be razed in a controlled manner eliminating the risk of sudden, potentially catastrophic, bridge failure.”
Both Governors have emphasized that until a new bridge can be built, a temporary new ferry service should be established as soon as possible. To that end, they noted that all of the required environmental documentation will be submitted to the appropriate federal agencies early this week, so that construction of new ferry docks can begin as soon as possible.
Last month, Governor Paterson and Governor Douglas announced transportation alternatives to assure that residents could cross Lake Champlain. Those alternatives include a free ferry service between Ticonderoga, New York and Shoreham, Vermont as well as free ferry service at Lake Champlain Transportation’s ferry service at the Essex/Charlotte crossing. Additionally, a free express bus service now brings commuters to three major employers in Vermont, while a pedestrian ferry service was established north of the Lake Champlain Bridge between Westport, New York and Basin Harbor, Vermont.
A toll-free hotline number for information about the bridge closure – 1-888-769-7243 – which was established in October will remain open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those calling from the 518 area code may dial 518-485-1159. The New York State outreach center is located in the Lake Champlain Visitors Center at 814 Bridge Rd. in Crown Point.
Further, to assure that the public is continually informed, regular e-mail updates are being sent to residents of both states who have signed up to receive them. These updates can be accessed by visiting the respective state transportation agency websites at www.lcbclosure.org in New York, and www.aot.state.vt.us in Vermont. The full HNTB report will be available at www.nysdot.gov and www.aot.state.vt.us later this week.
Source: Governor Douglas' office. 11.9.2009