CROWN POINT - For 80 years, there had been a bridge at the southern end of Lake Champlain. Then, for two years, there wasn't.
But on Nov. 7, there was again. Hundreds of people poured onto it that day, taking photos and lying on the center line out of sheer joy. A major travel corridor had been restored, and communities on either side of the lake were connected once again.
And a striking span it is, too: modern in aesthetic but clearly inspired by its predecessor's Art Deco lines. Local people picked it from a selection of design options because it reminded them of the old bridge, and the states respected the residents' choice.
The center arch span of the new Champlain Bridge had just been lifted and set in place when this photo was taken Aug. 27.
(Photo — Dan Meehan)
The original Lake Champlain Bridge between Crown Point, N.Y. and Chimney Point, Vt., was opened in 1929. In fall 2009, state transportation engineers discovered that its concrete footers had corroded to a dangerous degree and closed it immediately. They blew it up with a controlled - and widely watched - explosion in December 2009.
That left drivers crossing the gigantic lake with one bridge in Rouses Point, at the north end by the Canada border, and three ferries that charge fees. The states put a free, 24-hour ferry into place at Crown Point, but it didn't have the convenience of the bridge. Businesses near the crossing, and those that relied on transit between the states, suffered especially in the two-year gap.
"They called me in the middle of the night crying because they had traveled hours and hours to get to their jobs," Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Republican whose district represents the New York side of the bridge, said of her constituents at the new bridge's opening. "This whole community was devastated without this bridge."
But people gained hope watching the new "network tied arch bridge" gradually be built throughout 2011. Pouring of the concrete piers finished in April, and the steel frame was then erected.
Construction was delayed a bit in the spring due to record flooding and difficulties clearing debris from the old bridge. For a long time the states tried to stick to an Oct. 9 opening, but that ended up being delayed a month.
Cost overruns also resulted - 8 to 9 percent over budget. What started as a $69.6 million construction bid had become $75 million by mid-December and is likely to reach $76 million.
The center arch was assembled separately in Port Henry. It was floated to the bridge site on Aug. 26, and people watched as it was hoisted and fitted into place.
At the Nov. 7 ribbon-cutting event, the first vehicle to cross from Crown Point to West Addison, Vt., was a 1929 Pierce Arrow, a classic vehicle built in New York the same year the previous bridge was completed. New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin stood on the running boards.
Officials said the speed of the replacement was amazingly fast. Typically, designing and building a bridge like this one would take eight years.
"To replace the bridge that was here before and be here where we are today, in two years' time, is nothing short of a miracle," Duffy said.
"I never thought it would happen," said Pearl McMurtry, 88, of Crown Point, who worked in Middlebury, Vt., for years when she was younger and crossed the bridge every day. She and Jane Tur of Moriah, also 88, were 6 years old when they witnessed the dedication of the first bridge - New York Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had presided over that one. But even though the women have lived within a few miles of each other, they didn't meet for the first time until the 2011 bridge dedication.
A celebration for the new bridge has been scheduled for May 19 and 20, 2012, inspired by the 1929 celebration of the first bridge. Events include a parade, boat flotilla, music, food and craft vendors, farmers market, 5K road race and fireworks.