Crown Point, NY, Oct 16, 2009 — State officials abruptly closed the Crown Point bridge across Lake Champlain this afternoon, citing dangerous deterioration to the cement piers supporting the structure.
"The flaws and deterioration of those foundations means that...the bridge is subject to potential failure," said Mary Ivey, DOT regional director.
State Senator Betty Little says a "major tragedy" has been averted.
Engineers discovered that two concrete piers supporting the structure have deteriorated to the degree that environmental factors -- and not the weight of passing cars -- could cause the structure to collapse.
"What they've said is that what would happen is not just that one piece would fall off but that the whole bridge would collapse into the water," said Sen. Little.
The emergency closure will affect more than 3,400 travelers each day. Roughly half that number are local commuters who cross the bridge to get to work.
The route is a major link between northern New York and Vermont, with the nearest detour route 50-100 miles away.
The Ticonderoga ferry closes at the end of the October, but the ferry at Essex remains open until the lake ices up.
The other alternate route is at Whitehall in Washington County at the southern end of Lake Champlain.
This development will hit communities on both sides of the lake hard.
Carol Sweeney is a nurse from Crown Point, New York, who works at the hospital in Middlebury, Vermont.
"We avbsolutely for medical reasons alone need that bridge open," she said.
As recently as last week, state officials assured members of the public that there were no plans to close the bridge.
They also insisted that the bridge was safe for one-lane traffic and would reopen both lanes later this month.
"we are confident that it's safe," said Jim Boni, with New York's Transportation Department.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, whose district includes Crown Point, called today for an investigation of how the safety concern was overlooked.
"I know there were divers in that water all summer," Sayward said. "Why didn't we have any idea before we saw the email [today] that this was going on now?"
DOT officials say the closure is "indefinite."
More on this story Monday morning during the 8 O'clock Hour.