Crown Point Bridge update, replacement eyed

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The Crown Point Bridge was pronounced safe after inspections over the past month or so.

But the historic span over southern Lake Champlain was designed for another era.

So Vermont and New York are trying to figure out whether it can be updated or whether it should be replaced.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports:

(Sneyd) The bridge incorporates two different types of truss design.

So it automatically went on the list for immediate inspection after a bridge of similar design collapsed into the Mississippi River in Minnesota last month.

Inspectors found what they expected. The bridge linking Crown Point, New York, and Addison, Vermont, is safe.

But it was built in 1929, so it’s narrow and the biggest trucks can’t use it.

Peter van Keuren is a spokesman for the New York Department of Transportation, which maintains the bridge.

(Keuren) "The Crown Point Bridge has been around for a long time. I think the fact that it’s still standing and still in use and still safe to use is a testament to when the bridge was built and the people that built the bridge in the first place. But it is coming up on its last few years."

(Sneyd) So a project design committee has been appointed to decide whether the bridge can be rehabilitated to accommodate today’s traffic or whether it needs to be replaced.

Coming to that conclusion probably won’t be easy because of the history behind the bridge.

University of Vermont professor Robert McCullough wrote “Crossings,” a book on the history of Vermont bridges.

He says the Crown Point Bridge occupies a place not just in Vermont and New York history, but in U.S. history.

(McCullough) "The commission and the engineers spent a great deal of time focusing on the visual appearance of the bridge and settled on a design that moved from what you call a deck truss, where the structure supporting the roadway is below the roadway surface, to a through-truss, where the structural system is above the road surface, over the channel spans. It’s a graceful transition from deck truss to through-truss, as the bridge crosses the channel."

(Sneyd) It’s the first time that design was ever employed in the United States.

Elsa Gilbertson gets a regular view of the span from her job as an historic site administrator at Vermont’s Chimney Point State Historic Site.

She says it’s beautiful and fits its landscape.

(Gilbertson) "So this gentle arch in the middle just soars like the mountains around it."

(Sneyd) An effort is under way to list the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places and eventually to declare it a national historic landmark.

Steven Engelhart of Adirondack Architectural Heritage is behind that effort and wants the bridge to stay.

(Engelhar) "We believe the bridge should be kept, retained, rehabilitated and preserved."

(Sneyd) New York and Vermont would share evenly in the cost of whatever option is chosen.

Transportation officials say the study will take a couple of more years and a design should be complete by 2010. Construction would begin two years later.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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