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Champlain Bridge project set to launch this month

ADDISON — The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) expects to soon finalize an agreement with a Colorado-based general contractor that will later this month begin work on a new, $70 million Champlain Bridge that should be ready for traffic by late summer of 2011.
That was the promise delivered to area residents on Tuesday by an array of New York and Vermont transportation officials, engineers and consultants who assembled at the Addison Central School to give updates on plans for the new bridge, removal of the old bridge and operation of the temporary ferry service that has been running since February.
Officials from the NYSDOT — which is taking the lead in the new Champlain Bridge project — told a crowd of around 100 people that tolls will not be collected on the new bridge, a project they said will provide work opportunities for laborers and subcontractors in both Vermont and New York.
Using various charts, photos and an animated feature, officials guided meeting participants through what they said has been a very eventful past seven months that began with the closing of the Champlain Bridge last Oct. 16 when substantial damage was discovered to one of the span’s concrete piers.
“It takes a lot to get from the 1929 bridge to what we are calling the 2011 bridge,” said John Grady, Region One construction engineer for the NYSDOT.
The first step, he explained, was getting rid of the old span, which was imploded with a series of explosive charges on Dec 28. The piers have been taken down separately, some of them at the water level at this point to provide staging bases for erection of parts of the new bridge.
Most of the bridge debris has been recovered from in and around the lake, Grady said, noting a great deal of that material has been salvaged. Much of that steel has been sold to salvage yards, which will extend credit to the contractor to help offset costs of the new bridge, according to Grady.
“We will probably salvage 4 million pounds of steel,” Grady said.
Additional portions of the former Champlain Bridge will be used in testing bridges against terrorist attacks, noted Ted Zoli, vice president of HNTB and designer of the new, modified tied-arch Champlain Bridge.
“It’s really an organ donor moment,” Zoli said of the use to which some of the old bridge remnants are being put.
Meanwhile, planning for the new bridge has progressed beyond expectations, according to Zoli. He said a multitude of necessary state, federal, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard permits came through in “unprecedented” time. The construction contract drew eight bidders, of which Colorado-based Flatiron Construction Corp. offered the lowest price. At $70 million, the Champlain Bridge is a “small contract” for Flatiron, according to Zoli, who is currently working with the company on a $1 billion bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia. Flatiron also built the I-35W replacement bridge in Minneapolis following its tragic collapse in August of 2007.
Grady said the NYSDOT hopes to confirm Flatiron as the contractor within the next few weeks. Once the company is confirmed, it will have 500 days in which to get the bridge up and open. The contract will offer financial incentives to Flatiron to get it done sooner, but there will also be penalties if the company is late. Specifically, that penalty will be the $30,000 per day it is costing to operate the temporary ferry service. It is that ongoing expense — and the emergency status of the Champlain Bridge project — that has NYSDOT officials confident the massive undertaking will go forward on schedule in spite of the major budget problems in New York State.
Grady said Flatiron expects to bring eight to 10 workers along for the Champlain Bridge project, and anticipates hiring Vermont and New York workers to do much of the hands-on labor. Grady stressed that federal regulations prohibit the NYSDOT from requiring Flatiron to hire local workers and subcontractors. But the company seems to be headed in that direction based on preliminary discussions, according to Grady.
Labor has been a thorny subject as it relates to the bridge project. The Vermont Agency of Transportation had argued against a proposed project labor agreement governing hiring, wages and benefits for the work, claiming that such an agreement could freeze out Vermont workers. Grady said there are no rules in place that would preclude Flatiron from hiring Vermont workers.
The new bridge is being designed with 75-foot clearance for boats, with 11-foot-wide lanes, 5-foot-wide shoulders and 5-foot-wide sidewalks. The span will feature “subdued” lighting in deference to area residents, Zoli said. Steel components used in the bridge will be “metalized” to prevent corrosion, while the piers will be heavily reinforced with steel, coated with granite and shaped in the form of ice-breakers to minimize erosion, according to Zoli. The new span is being built to last at least 75 years, but could be around long after that because many of its components will be replaceable, Zoli said.
The NYSDOT pledged to keep the public informed about the project through its website (www.nysdot.gov). Grady added that cameras will be set up to provide real-time views of construction and Flatiron plans to offer tours and educational opportunities for area students while work is going on.
Officials said approaches at both ends of the bridge will be restored to previous conditions once the bridge is erected.
Robin Scheu, executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC), was among those who attended Tuesday’s meeting. She noted the ACEDC is administering low- and no-interest loans to those businesses that were hurt following the shutdown of the bridge. The organization has $800,000 available for loans, increments ranging from $1,000 to $25,000.
No interest will be charged until the new bridge is up and running, Scheu noted. Any qualifying business should call the ACEDC at 388-7953, or e-mail [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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