New Champlain ferry operation imminent

first_img Residents in the area surrounding the Lake Champlain Bridge share family, friends and business relationships on both sides of the lake, Vermont Governor Douglas said. Establishing this new, free ferry service will allow these relationships and commerce to resume more normally.   On B-Day, December 28, 2009, it took longer for the clouds of smoke, rust and paint to settle than for the 500-plus shaped charges of MRX high explosive to cut enough weakened steel beams to bring down the Champlain Bridge. In its place, work on a new bridge is expected to start this spring. In the meantime, a new ferry located at the same spot was expected to begin operations by the end of January.The implosive demolition opened the way for a set of operations more complicated than dealing with the old bridge, whose remains by mid-January had been fished out of the crossing to the point where a 20-foot-deep channel was available for future boat traffic. (A 1,000-foot safety zone has been declared around the bridge removal operation no ice-fishing shanties, either which is supposed to be completed by April 15). Attention had turned to the project of creating a ferry at the same crossing a project that had begun before the implosion and was on track to be done by the end of January–and to strategic decisions that would shape the Champlain Bridge s replacement.The Ticonderoga ferry had been kept running through December 27 usually it closes after fall foliage season, and ice had briefly forced owner Michael Matot to shut it down on December 17 by Jeff Provost s company Dock Doctors. The Ferrisburgh firm, which employs about 35 people in the colder months and as many as 50 in the summer, does manufacturing in Vermont but sells more of its products in the Lake George area of New York, where it has a branch office.Thus Dock Doctors found itself among the businesses who had employees or markets or suppliers that required crossing Lake Champlain, and saw the lake become a divide when the bridge was closed October 16. Since the summer, usage had been limited to one lane, with no trucks over 40,000 pounds allowed. The generally accepted figure is that in normal operation, there were about 3,400 trips across the bridge each day.Provost made himself known to the public when he announced, at a states-sponsored hearing in Addison following the steel bridge s complete shutdown, that he could swiftly put up docks capable of serving barges like this in use on the Hudson river, which could handle (as could the docks) both heavy truck traffic and winter ice.Neither state took him up on the offer, but in the weeks that followed, Dock Doctors ice-managing craft and two bubbler lines went to work pushing back the ice then keeping the crossing open between Larabee s Point and Ticonderoga. It took them time to come around to it, Provost said in a recent interview but a lot of ferry users won t forget the sight of the channel passing between acres of ice like the Biblical parting of the Red Sea.Bubbler lines are used all over the world, Provost said. A compressor pushes air through hoies in a hose running along the bottom of the body of water, the air bubbles enlarge as they rise (less pressure), and soon there is an upward draft, similar to that of a ceiling fan, except it is sending water upward. The lake bottom and the water near it are warmer, he said which is why some kinds of fish plow into bottom mud to survive and creating a circulation that brings up the warmer water maintains a wall that prevents ice from forming.The Ti ferry could have run all winter, between its two bubbler lines, plus propeller devices that move water near shores, and their barge and its small crane to deal with any loose floating ice, Provost said. In fact, there is a bubbler operation they began 12 years ago in Pittsburgh for the Army Corps of Engineers, to keep 100 boat slips open, which is still going.But no insurance company would continue the Ti ferry s insurance, Provost said, because of one risk assessor. He didn t even come and look. Instead, based on the fact that the Ti ferry s quarter inch steel hull wasn t meant to run through ice, he recommended against insuring the operation even though there was no ice, Provost said.A NYS-DOT bulletin announced that on January 14, Lake Champlain Transportation would deploy one of their ferries to the future ferry crossing between Chimney Point and Crown Point, to cruise back and forth and keep ice from blocking the channel. Two days later it was there, doing exactly that.John Zicconi, VTrans director of planning, outreach and community affairs, had no doubt that the ferry could double as an ice-breaker; the company keeps a crossing open in the Champlain Islands with one, he observed. Provost said it seemed a huge waste of money to him, running a ferry rather than a few compressors, but we have to look to the future.The future of the crossing is unfolding as three concurrent efforts: removing the remains of the bridge (no one has said how the concrete piers will be taken down); finishing new ferry docks at Chimney Point and Crown Point and starting regular ferry service (which Zicconi said is on track to start by the end of January); and designing, planning, permitting, and building a new bridge (to open in 2011 if many things go well, or in 2012 if not).One key decision was made, as promised, a few days after the January 11 closing of a public comment period regarding the design of the new bridge. The projected cost of a new bridge had gone from the NYS-DOT s rough estimate of $50 million prior to discovering a fatal flaw in one of the unreinforced concrete bridge piers to a rough estimate in mid-January of $111 million, counting the costs of building and operating a ferry and subsidizing travel on the existing ferries. With the Vermont, New York and the country as a whole facing major deficits and a stalled economy, there was every chance that budgetary issues would trump aesthetic considerations and the effect of replacing a National Historic Monument with something of Spartan simplicity on the area s attractiveness to tourists.HNTB, the Kansas City firm contracted to design the new bridge, put forward six potential bridge renderings. The long-span steel girder bridge and sequential concrete bridge, both with the roadway as the highest point, resembled Interstate highway construction; the steel composite cable-stayed bridge and concrete extradosed bridge both had the roadway supported by cables connected to high towers (one such cable-stayed bridge is visible in the heart of Boston; for a spectacular example, look up the Millau Bridge in France, which spans a valley rather than a river); and the network tied arch bridge and modified network tied arch bridge both had the middle of the roadway held up by cables tied at a steel arch.The modified arch drew overwhelming support from the public and from the citizens advisory group, a panel of New York and Vermont state and local officials plus business representatives. On each side its arch extended down past the roadway to a pier and from there continued upward in check-mark fashion to support more of the roadway; the concept seemed to suggest a higher highway with a better scenic view, and the overall profile was stylish rather than severe. In mid-January, the two state transportation agencies looked at the results of the informal survey, and chose the same arch design the public had favored. But that did not settle all the issues.The reason for putting a new bridge where the old one had been was, officials said, largely to avoid the time and expensive of archaeological investigations Lake Champlain and its shores having been historically important corridors for at least 400 years. Deviating at all from the previous footprint even at the same crossing–would set in motion federally required processes.That set off alarm bells for cyclists and pedestrians, a group that has grown substantially with the strengthening conviction the country should support and enhance means of transportation that do not increase global warming by burning fossils fuels. If the width of the bridge is not increased, to avoid increasing its footprint, how could there by room for adding cycling lanes and sidewalks?Zicconi said that whatever is true for the base of the bridge, the traveled way will have 11-foot vehicular lanes, five-foot shoulders, and sidewalks; unusually wide vehicles, such as farming machinery, would utilize shoulder space. Asked if the curbs for the sidewalks were being designed to allow cyclists to leap from the shoulder to the sidewalk when confronted by a dangerous situation a standard safety maneuver for cyclists he said no one had brought up that issue.The strongest pressure for accelerating ferry and bridge construction has come from the business community, where loss of bi-state business and employee travel have been serious issues. All sorts of improvisations and adaptations have helped keep the impacts from becoming extreme: Basin Harbor quickly arranging a pedestrian ferry; public transit agencies on both sides of the lake adding bus routes between towns or businesses and ferry landings; the state paying ferry charges so those fees wouldn t increase the cost of commuting; businesses or nonprofits assisting employees who commute (Middlebury College and the Porter Medical Center, for example); carpooling; and in the case of places like the West Addison General Store (hurting but still going, said owner Dana Franklin) and the Bridge Restaurant in Addison, voluntary supportive purchases by area residents.Even where successful, the effort has been strenuous. At Porter, where 75 employees were from New York State, only two people left because of the bridge situation, according to spokesman Ron Hallman. It hasn t been easy, he said, especially for people leaving or coming onto a shift at 11 pm. Nor has the $250,000 they have spent in employee assistance as of mid-January been easy budgetarily. He summed up: It s big issue.Much was made early on of three Vermont farmers with operations or fields or cows across the lake (make that four: part of the Bridge Restaurant s popularity comes from featuring local farm beef). But the bigger agricultural impact might arrive later for Bourdeau Brothers, the business name used for Bourdeau Brothers in northern Vermont, Bourdeau & Bushey in Middlebury, and Feed Commodities International, and for their customers. Jim Bushey, who manages in Middlebury, said that if there is no effective means of reaching their New York State customers by spring, when services like seeding and fertilizing are needed, the situation could become serious. Sending feed trucks through Whitehall, at the southern end of the lake, has been a considerable expense, he said.It may never be possible to get a good figure for the total impact, said Andy Mayer, executive director of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce. But their Middlebury office, which has been an information relay point, send out a survey in the late fall, not aimed at affected parties but simply using their contact list. The 83 surveys returned indicated losses of $60-$300 per week. Some help is anticipated from the state s economic development resources; early on, business people said they were more interested in grants than loans, but the feeling has swung the other way, that loans with low or no interest would help, he said.When the bridge closed, both states declared transportation emergencies, but so far there has not been a push to declare an economic emergency. As for funding the new bridge, the formula repeatedly cited would have an 80 percent federal share matched by 20 percent from the states, with each paying 10 percent. Efforts are underway to secure some sort of appropriation or earmark that would defray all or part of the state shares.The unexpected bridge closure and demolition, for safety reasons, brought attention back to the VTrans’ 2007 Road to Affordability and its premise that repairing and maintaining infrastructure promptly is much cheaper, in the long run, than allowing emergency situations to arise. A recent online FAQ for that plan states that The Agency has $1.5 billion in highway, bridge and culvert projects already identified and under development. At our current pace of spending $60 million annually on roadway projects and $50 million annually on structures like bridges and culverts, it will take about 15 years to complete everything on our books. And this does not account for inflation or needs that will surface between now and the year 2022.The upcoming Legislature will have to decide whether increased bonding would amount to increased deficit spending, which would hurt the state s bond interest rate, or whether prompt attention to infrastructure needs would help in the long run.Despite the recession, a we ll get there spirit has prevailed. At the telephone number for the Bridge Restaurant, owner and operator Lisa Cloutier thanks people for calling The No Bridge Restaurant, which she says is closed for the time being because the loss of the bridge minimized traffic along the corridor (her restaurant is at the junction of Routes 17 and 125, a few hundred yards from the crossing). However, the message insists, Make no mistake about it: once the ferry comes into this corridor, this restaurant will be back open again.Source: Vermont Business Magazine. Story by Ed Barna. Ed Barna is a freelance writer from Middlebury. New York Governor David Paterson traveled to Crown Point, NY, today and was expected to announce that a new ferry operating at the location of the former Champlain Bridge was expected to begin operation by the end of January, in other words, by Sunday at the latest. Full, regular service is expected first thing Monday. This has been a long-time coming for those commuters using circuitous travel routes to reach destinations to and from Vermont, and for those businesses on both sides of Lake Champlain who count on those commuters. The free service will run around the clock and every day. The crossing will take about 15 minutes.last_img

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