CROWN POINT —
The governors of New York and Vermont arrived majestically by ferry Friday as the groundbreaking for the new Champlain Bridge kicked off.
Commuters watched in awe as New York Gov. David Paterson and Vermont Gov. James Douglas came into the Crown Point Ferry docks standing on the bow of the ferry.
Both men then walked from the ferry landing to the ceremony, which was being held at the end of the approach to the bridge on the New York side.
A temporary podium had been set up on the road, with ceremonial shovels stuck in a pile of dirt behind it.
Paterson was first to speak, telling people they were present for a historic event.
"It was a heart-wrenching decision to close the old bridge, but we are moving to build a new bridge. Government can respond to crisis, and we can make a promise and keep it, at least sometimes."
The old bridge was closed Oct. 16, 2009, after deep structural cracks were found. It was destroyed by controlled explosives Dec. 28.
A $69.6 million contract for a new span was awarded to Flatiron Constructors of Colorado, and the firm's top man on the project was there Friday to tell the crowd they are rapidly mobilizing workers and equipment.
"Flatiron was really pleased to get this job," project manager Mark Mallett said. "This bridge will be (built) on time, one way or the other."
Paterson said that day was the official start of construction on the new bridge.
"Flatiron will not only employ people from the region but will use equipment from the region. When the first car goes across that bridge, it will be a new era."
Douglas and Paterson are not running for re-election this year, but Douglas said both of them plan to come back in September 2011 to see the new bridge open.
"We look forward to rejoining these two great parts of the Champlain Valley," Douglas said.
"We want to be sure public health and safety continue to be paramount. The new bridge will be safer and wider (than the old one)."
The modified network tied-arch design selected for the new bridge is somewhat reminiscent of the old continuous-truss bridge.
"I think it's going to be a great structure," Douglas said.
END IN SIGHT
Crown Point Town Supervisor Bethany Kosmider said people have to wait only a little longer.
"We will have our bridge back. Through eight months, we have learned patience. Now all of us want to thank everyone who worked to bring us to this day."
Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava praised the cooperation and coordination between federal, state and local governments to quickly plan for a new bridge.
"This was government at its best. Everyone cooperated, something that doesn't happen in government."
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said a very difficult situation is coming to an end.
"The traffic corridor that has existed here for a very long time established a business corridor around this bridge."
The original Champlain Bridge opened in 1929, connecting Crown Point and Addison, Vt.
Vermont farmer Lee Kayhart was also at the event to thank Douglas and Paterson for their quick response to the crisis.
"We have a dairy farm on both sides, and the ferry has been instrumental in keeping us in business."
Kayhart said he has to move farm equipment back and forth daily in order to run his operations.
Following the ceremony, the governors and state, federal and local officials went back and everyone grabbed a shovel.
The first shovelfuls of dirt flew toward news photographers and TV cameras as the event concluded.
E-mail Lohr McKinstry at: firstname.lastname@example.org