NY lawmaker: Others could suffer bridge closings

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 5:54 PM

New York state Sen. Elizabeth Little said the sudden closure of an unstable, half-mile bridge spanning Lake Champlain in Essex County is isolating the communities that rely on it and harming nearby businesses.

Little said the closing does not bode well for other communities that could suffer the same problem of failing roads and infrastructure.

"The detour for the bridge is over 80 miles each way," Little said. "There are a huge number of people who live in New York and work in Vermont, and vice versa, but also many, many people in Crown Point, Fort (William) Henry and Ticonderoga get their health care in Middlebury, Vermont, at Porter hospital."

She said the hospital has the only maternity ward within 55 miles for some places in the area.

Engineers declared the 80-year-old bridge too unstable to be renovated, recommended demolishing it for safety reasons and building a new bridge.

Michael Sweeney has taken to rowing across the water. The 58-year-old is retired, but he delivers for a local newspaper and also likes to try to support the businesses that have been struggling without the bridge traffic.

"I don't feel like waiting for the ferry so I decided for now I'm just going to row across. It's only about half a mile," Sweeney said.

Barbara Brassard, the executive director of the Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce, said businesses that normally benefit from through traffic on the Crown Point Bridge have suffered losses between 30 and 90 percent since the bridge closed in mid-October.

"This is the short term impact," Brassard said. "The long term impact would surface next summer when the tourists normally arrive."

The Warren County Republican said New York state has 110 other bridges with safety ratings the same or worse than the Crown Point bridge, now considered too dangerous for traffic.

The Department of Transportation's 2010-2015 capital proposal says 1,526 bridges will become deficient over the next five years without significant investment.

Republican Sen. Tom Libous of Binghamton said the problem is that Senate Democrats, who are primarily from New York City and surrounding suburbs, passed a stand-alone bill to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Usually, the Senate passes a bill that includes the MTA and upstate roads and highways simultaneously.

"By going back on their word to address upstate's transportation needs, Senate Democrats have shown quite clearly that they don't care about the safety of our roads and bridges," he said in a statement.

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A spokesman for Senate Democrats declined comment.

Gov. David Paterson has said that the latest DOT proposals for improving upstate roads and bridges is "simply unaffordable given New York's current fiscal condition."

"Any call ... to fund a $25.7 billion capital plan has to include how to pay for that plan," said Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman. "The governor has said he is not going to raise taxes, and has called for Congress to renew transportation funding."

As an alternative until the Crown Point bridge can be replaced, Paterson announced several transportation alternatives, including a free ferry service between Ticonderoga, N.Y., and Shoreham, Vt.

The two states also have established a free ferry service at Lake Champlain Transportation's service at the Essex/Charlotte crossing and a free express bus service now brings commuters to three major employers in Vermont.

Pedestrian ferry service was also established north of the Lake Champlain Bridge between Westport, N.Y., and Basin Harbor, Vt.