ADDISON — Because of deteriorating steel trusses discovered in a June inspection, New York Department of Transportation officials were poised on Friday to limit traffic to one lane on the Lake Champlain Bridge that links Addison with Crown Point, N.Y.
Signals at either end of the span, a crucial link between Vermont and New York State used by up to 3,600 vehicles a day, will allow eastbound and westbound traffic to take turns crossing Lake Champlain. Work will last at least through the end of August and possibly longer, said NYDOT spokesman Peter Van Keuren.
Van Keuren said the inspection uncovered “several” areas seriously in need of attention, and officials decided it would be unsafe to wait any longer to reduce stress on the 2,184-foot span, which was built in 1929. People who had been briefed on the closure said there are at least 20 to 30 areas where primary and secondary structural members were to some degree compromised.
“By limiting the traffic to one lane, we limit the load to one lane, and that’s going to help the bridge out while we do these repairs,” Van Keuren said.
A lower weight limit per vehicle, 80,000 pounds compared to 100,000, was imposed on tractor-trailer trucks, and Van Keuren said “R permits” allowing heavier loads would no longer be valid. But he did not expect those rules to have a major impact on the trucking sector.
“A legally loaded tractor-trailer can still use the bridge,” he said.
But Van Keuren expected some motorists to be frustrated, especially this past holiday weekend.
“We do anticipate some traffic delays in that area,” he said, noting that during busy times some may choose to drive by way of Route 4 in Whitehall or use ferries in Shoreham or Charlotte.
The latest symptoms are part of a larger issue for the 80-year-old bridge, which is tentatively slated for a $40 million to $50 million replacement in 2013, with an 80 percent federal share.
“The general problem is that it is old,” Van Keuren said.
Rick Kehne, senior transportation planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, estimated that 600 or 700 New Yorkers commute across the bridge to Vermont jobs, many to Porter Hospital and Middlebury College in Middlebury or Goodrich Corp. in Vergennes.
Kehne didn’t expect delays to result in job losses, unless low-wage workers decide it is too much of a hassle to wait in traffic at times in order to get to a minimum-wage job.
“The job issue will be a little bit of an inconvenience,” he said.
Many farm vehicles also use the bridge, but Kehne guessed that most of those would not exceed the weight limit.
Local officials agree the timing — the onset of a holiday weekend and at the beginning of a summer celebrating the 400th anniversary of the European discovery of the lake by Samuel de Champlain — is unfortunate, but inescapable.
Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, who sits on the Vermont House Transportation Committee, tried to find a silver lining.
“On the positive side, no one has been hurt,” she said. “And it definitely will bring pressure on many to move along the process of repairing or replacing the bridge.”