VERGENNES — Turns out the design for the replacement for the Champlain Bridge actually has yet to be set in stone, so to speak.
The Dec. 15 recommendation by the Lake Champlain Bridge Project’s Public Advisory Committee (PAC) to go with option No. 6 of the six bridge designs presented by officials form the New York and Vermont transportation departments — and the overwhelming concurrence with that choice by the public in an online survey last month — are just recommendations.
“The NYSDOT (New York State Department of Transportation) and VTrans (Vermont Agency of Transportation) will make the actual decision,” VTrans spokesman John Zicconi said last week, adding, “but public sentiment will carry considerable weight.”
Transportation officials unveiled the six bridge concepts at a series of public meetings in Ticonderoga, N.Y., on Dec. 12, where sentiment favored No. 6, the Modified Network Tied Arch Bridge. Many said the graceful steel arch was reminiscent of the 80-year-old Champlain Bridge, which was demolished last week because it piers had deteriorated to the point where it was unsafe. Three days after the Ticonderoga meetings the Public Advisory Committee announced its preference for the same design.
But Zicconi said the public comment period on the six bridge concepts runs until Jan. 11, and the public can still offer their opinions by writing to the NYSDOT and at a public information meeting to be held in Vergennes on Monday, Jan. 4, at 6 p.m. at the Addison County Eagles clubhouse at 67 New Haven Road.
The meeting — which is being held in Vergennes due to its close proximity to the Essex/Charlotte ferry so that residents of both Vermont and New York can attend — will provide those who were not able to attend the Dec. 12 meetings in Ticonderoga with an opportunity to hear and discuss details about the six possible bridge designs and offer feedback on which design they like best.
Zicconi said the public can expect the two transportation departments to announce the actual final choice of design soon after the public comment period closes on Jan. 11. Construction on the new bridge is planned to begin in the spring of 2010.
“I’m not going to speculate on what the final choice will be, but it would be fair to say that the Modified Network Tied Arch Bridge is certainly the public’s favorite so far, and everyone at NYSDOT and VTrans is well aware of that,” Zicconi said.
He explained that the Vergennes meeting had long been in the works but that the timing of the holidays pushed it to the later part of the 30-day public comment period.
“The PAC controls its own process, and it wanted to meet quickly within those 30 days and make a recommendation, which it did during the public comment period’s first week,” Zicconi said. “Right from the beginning we began discussing a sister meeting somewhere in Vermont, but thought it was better to hold it after the holidays so that we had meetings both near the beginning and the end of the public comment period. Jan. 4 is a full week before the close of comments, which we thought still gives people a reasonable time to chime in.”
During Monday’s presentation, project team members will present the design criteria for the new bridge and the feasible bridge types available for consideration. Attendees will be asked for input regarding features that should be included in the design, such as sidewalks, bicycle lanes, lighting and materials used, as well as the style of the new bridge. Those who attend will also be provided with an update on how the selection process has progressed since the meetings held in Ticonderoga earlier in December.
Public preference will be one of many factors considered as VTrans and NYSDOT choose a replacement bridge design, and public input will play a significant role in the final determination, officials stressed. A rendering of and more details about the Modified Network Tied Arch Bridge, as well as other bridge alternatives, can be found at www.nysdot.gov/lakechamplainbridge/alternatives.
Those wishing to voice a preference can do so by sending their comments in writing to Jim Boni, NYSDOT, 328 State Street, Schenectady, NY 12305. Comments will be accepted until Jan. 11.
“Everyone’s input counts, which is why we have not yet chosen a bridge design,” Zicconi said. “The media may have jumped to a conclusion and said that the Modified Network Tied Arch Bridge is THE choice, but neither VTrans nor NYSDOT have said that. The Modified Network Tied Arch is clearly the public frontrunner at this time, but we won’t make an official decision until after the full 30-day public comment period is over.”