Ti Ferry extended through December 31

ADDISON — One Lake Champlain ferry will extend its run through the end of the year while another will pare back hours as New York and Vermont transportation officials continue to work on a temporary ferry service and explore the viability of a temporary span near the site of the closed Champlain Bridge.
Owners of the Ticonderoga Ferry confirmed this week that they will continue their extended run — weather permitting — from Shoreham to Ticonderoga, N.Y., through Dec. 31.
This week saw workers installing new equipment, including “bubblers” to inhibit ice formation, to allow the ferry to operate as long as possible through the colder temperatures that will soon descend upon the Champlain Valley.
“If all goes right and there is global warming, maybe we can run all winter,” Ti Ferry co-owner Michael Matot quipped on Monday as additional crew were being trained to supplement a workforce that has been running seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Normally, the ferry service is seasonal and shuts down at the end of October each fall. But the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and New York State Department of Transportation have reached an agreement with Michael and Alison Matot that will allow the ferry to continue offering free rides.
Officials stressed that Lake Champlain is relatively shallow where the ferry operates, and eventually the lake is expected to freeze and prevent the service from continuing despite winterization efforts. Also, snow and ice conditions on specific days could force the operation to cancel or curtail service on short notice for either safety or mechanical reasons.
So far, weather hasn’t been an issue. The Matots and their expanded crew have been putting in long hours to help people get across the lake in a trek that, if the ferry wasn’t running would take two hours, if they had to detour through Whitehall, N.Y.
The Matots originally bought the Ti Ferry as a second job; Michael works as an orchard manager and Alison as a schoolteacher. The job has suddenly been dominating their lives, since authorities closed the Champlain Bridge on Oct. 16 due to safety concerns. The 80-year-old bridge is to be demolished and rebuilt.
“There’s not much family time, and that’s what kills me,” said Michael Matot. The couple has an 8-year-old daughter, Alexis.
Right now, Michael gets around five hours of sleep each day, if he’s lucky; he’s at the ferry at 4:30 a.m. Alison is also burning the candle at both ends, helping out at the ferry and holding down the home front, along with her teaching duties.
But Michael Matot said he is pleased that the ferry, by remaining open, is helping other families enjoy a little more quality time that they wouldn’t be able to have if they made the Whitehall detour. He said he has seen people crying during the short ferry ride, sharing stories about how their children are still asleep when they leave in the morning and have already gone to bed when they get home at night.
“That’s where my heart reaches out,” Matot said.
Indeed, Matot said he has seen a long lineup of cars on the New York side waiting for the first ferry when he arrives at 4:30 some mornings.
Meanwhile, the Lake Champlain Ferry Company, which runs the Essex/Charlotte Ferry, this week cancelled its last run of the day due to low ridership. The schedule change means that the last ferry leaving Charlotte, Vt., for Essex, N.Y., now departs at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., while the last ferry leaving Essex for Charlotte departs at 9:30 p.m. instead of 10:30 p.m. A full schedule can be found at www.ferries.com.
In addition, Vermont and New York are finalizing plans for a charter bus service that will run from the Ticonderoga area and take people across the lake on the Essex ferry. This replacement option will be able to assure a reliable all-weather method of crossing the lake once winter weather sets in, officials said.
A new ferry operation, to be located around 1,000 feet south of the Lake Champlain Bridge, is starting to come together, according to John Zicconi, director of planning, outreach and community affairs for VTrans.
Zicconi said permitting and planning is nearing completion on docks and other land-related infrastructure for the ferry, which would be able to run through icy conditions. There is still more planning to do for the water-related functions of the ferry, a service that Zicconi said would be set up as quickly as possible.
On Tuesday, New York transportation officials posted a note on their Web site saying they “are hopeful that construction of the land access to the docks can start by next week.”
In other recent bridge-related news:
• The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has indefinitely closed the Chimney Point fishing access due to safety concerns related to the Champlain Bridge. The access is located under the Champlain Bridge.
Boaters and anglers are being asked to drive two miles south to the McCuen Slang Fishing Access Area, which also has a boat ramp and will be maintained throughout the winter for people going ice fishing.
• A group calling itself the “Champlain Bridge Coalition” held a rally at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier on Tuesday. The group, made up of residents from both ends of the bridge, lobbied for a quick replacement of the bridge, as well as for rapid installation of temporary modes of passage across the lake.
• The New York transportation department has determined that the site just south of the existing bridge where temporary ferry service is being developed is a more feasible site for a temporary bridge than the site at the hamlet of Crown Point. Future assessment of a temporary bridge will focus on the temporary ferry site.
• New York Gov. David Paterson has directed DOT to work with the federal government to expedite the construction of the new bridge.
· Design consultant HNTB’s complete bridge analysis report is now available for downloading at www.lcbclosure.org. The report describes the significant safety issues with fixing the existing Lake Champlain Bridge and recommends immediately demolishing it to build at new bridge at the same location.
· Representatives from New York state continue to meet with towns in the region to make sure they’re ready to clear snow and ice from the roads leading to the Essex/Charlotte and Ticonderoga ferries during the winter.

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