Residents Celebrate Major Step In Bridge Construction

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(Host) Hundreds of people gathered on two sides of Lake Champlain to watch the arrival of the final piece of steel of a new bridge that will soon re-connect Vermont and New York.

For many, the event signals the approaching end of a two-year saga that began when the original bridge was suddenly closed because inspectors declared it unsafe.

VPR’s Melody Bodette reports:

(Bodette) In a way it made sense to postpone the placement of the bridge’s arch for a day. August 26th marks the 82nd anniversary of the opening of the original bridge over this narrow channel of the southern lake.

The new bridge is a modified network tied-arch bridge. "Delta frames" support the 400-foot arch. Architect Ted Zoli says the frames are important to the construction.

(Zoli) "The delta frames are really serving as the crane…. Using the bridge as the crane gives you some unique opportunities to do this cost effectively and safely."

(Bodette) Many people voted for the design because the arch looks like a modern version of the 1929 bridge. Including Lisa Henry of Charlotte:

(Henry) "We were the dorks initially voting when they were surveying who wanted what type of bridge to go in. This was the bridge we voted for because we had that iconic arch image in our heads from the old bridge. So we’re excited to see this one go in."

(Bodette) They didn’t have to wait long.

The arch was floated down the lake on a pair of barges quickly. And then, just after lunch, it started moving up toward the bridge approaches, which have already been built.

(Bodette) John Grady has been overseeing the project for the New York State Department of Transportation. He says floating the bridge into place has been effective.

(Grady) "It certainly is much easier to build an arch on the land and also for this site it was a way to build this bridge more expeditiously. Because we were able to build the arch while we were working on the approaches."

(Bodette) Grady says connections will have to be bolted, and concrete poured. That will take several weeks.

The bridge is being built on an aggressive schedule. But work has still seemed slow to some. Alice Vilardo of Ticonderoga was working in Middlebury when the bridge closed, a job she eventually left because of the commute.

(Vilardo) "It is frustrating. It’s tiring. You have over 3,500 to 5,000 people driving from New York to Vermont."

(Bodette) Many watched from the ferry that’s running in place of the bridge. Karen Hennessey of Crown Point summed up the excitement in the air:

(Hennessey) "It’s like Christmas Eve. I couldn’t sleep last night in anticipation. And like we’ve been saying, this has just been a bridge. But with the arch, that makes it our bridge because there’s nothing else like it."

(Bodette) And many plan to come back when the bridge opens in six to eight weeks.

For VPR News, I’m Melody Bodette in West Addison.

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