CROWN POINT -- The Lake Champlain Bridge was closed indefinitely on Friday after an inspection revealed problems with the bridge's foundation.
Closure of the main traffic route between Crown Point and Chimney Point, Vt., has resulted in about a 100-mile detour on Route 4 through Whitehall, and on Vermont Routes 22A and 17.
Area legislators said the sudden closure is disconcerting.
"It's completely unacceptable and I can't understand how one week ago we were at a public meeting at Addison, Vt., and they didn't know that the bridge was in as bad a condition as it is," said state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, who chairs a citizens committee advising the DOT on replacement or refurbishing of the 80-year-old bridge.
The bridge, built in 1929, had been the site of repair work since mid-summer, and traffic had been limited to only one-way at a time.
State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, said inspectors were able to get a closer look at the bridge's structure on Friday, now that the water level is lower.
"They found two piers that they found such deterioration and concrete cracks that when they investigated the depth of the cracks and all, they recommended absolute closure of the bridge immediately because they said the piers could actually collapse and the bridge could go into the water -- whether there were cars on it or not," she said.
The DOT press release stated only that an inspection "found problems with the bridge's foundation."
A DOT spokesman had not returned a Post-Star request for comment as of 5:30 p.m. Friday.
"They said when they did the in-depth studies (on Friday) they found out that the piers were in worse condition than what they thought they were. And they believe that the thermal effect of the weather could cause the bridge to tip over," Sayward said. "So it's not so much the weight of the traffic on the bridge. It is the possibility of it tipping. And with winter coming on and the wind and the cold and the ice, they just felt they have to close it down at least for further analysis to see if it's even possible to reopen again."
The DOT press release stated, "The closure is expected to be temporary. ... Analysis will continue and repair work alternatives will be evaluated."
Just how long "temporary" might be is unclear.
"They told me it could be weeks or more until they figure out what they can do with it," said Little, who was at the scene with DOT officials on Friday.
Sayward said she asked DOT officials if it was possible to construct a temporary bridge.
"They told me they're looking at everything." she said.
Transportation departments in New York and Vermont had been working on a long-range plan for the bridge that could involve either replacing it or rehabilitating the current structure.
The bridge is part of a major traffic route between the Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Port Henry area of New York and the Vergennes, Middlebury and Burlington area of Vermont.
"You've got farmers that are still cutting corn on this side and there are farmers on that side -- or visa versa. You've got businesses," said Little, speaking via cell phone from the intersection of routes 9N and 22, where New York motorists make the turn to go to the bridge.
"The amount of traffic they're turning away is amazing," she said.
The closure is particularly problematic for emergency services, Sayward said.
"I mean the closest trauma unit for many of our small little communities is Burlington, Vt.," she said. "And the Addison (Vt.) fire company and the Crown Point (N.Y.) fire company work together on mutual aid calls. So that's going to be a real problem."
Little said officials are contacting operators of ferries at Essex and Ticonderoga to discuss operating longer hours and extending their season, so motorists have a shorter detour route than going through Whitehall.
"Both states recognize the importance of the bridge to commuters, truck companies, the farming community, emergency services providers and the public in general," the DOT press release stated.
Little said the DOT was putting up flashing message boards on the Northway to alert motorists of the closure, and was printing up detour maps to distribute to motorists.
New York and Vermont transportation departments are planning a public meeting soon to discuss future plans, the DOT press release stated.