Just about thirteen months ago, I was sipping a mimosa and watching 800 pounds of explosives blow up the Lake Champlain Bridge between Addison, Vt. and Crown Point, N.Y. It was a good combination: Booze and pyrotechnics, the sort of combustible mixture that has led many a young man to cheer – and sometimes because he can’t clap, because he has just blown off an arm.
The bridge was demolished on December 28, 2009, but it feels like only yesterday to me. Of course, I never used the bridge. It feels like 1928 – the year before the original bridge was completed – to people on both sides of the lake who once commuted upon it daily. Now they take the ferry or listen to whole books on audio in the time it takes them to drive to and from work each day.
In any case, the long wait for a new $69 million bridge is. . .well, not almost over. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In eight or nine months – sometime in early October – we will again be able to cross that bridge when we come to it. It will no longer be a bridge to nowhere. A bridge under troubled water.
As soon as tomorrow night, we can all begin to help plan the big reopening celebration. (Hint: Mimosas are our friends.) The Lake Champlain Bridge Community is holding a public planning meeting on Monday, Jan. 24, at six p.m. at the Crown Point Historic Site Museum on the New York side of the lake. The group wants volunteers and big ideas – especially big fundraising ideas, since right now the organization has more subcommittees (six) than it has dollars (zero).
Karen Hennessey, co-chair of the Lake Champlain Bridge Community and owner of the Sugar Hill Manor bed and breakfast in Crown Point, N.Y., told me she has very high hopes for the reopening celebration in October. Among the elements of the gala she envisions? “We want a two-day weekend event with a parade and a boat parade. We want musical groups, re-enactors, a footrace, a Saturday night dance, a Sunday morning ecumenical service, and Sunday night fireworks.” She also wants Champ the lake monster to be there, though preferably in his cuddly, minor league baseball mascot incarnation, and not in his decidedly less cuddly, bridge-killing, Godzilla or Cloverfield monster incarnation.
In other words, the party Hennessey envisions will make the original bridge opening back in 1929 – which had roughly 40,000 people and then Governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in attendance – look like the weekly gathering of the high school math club. (Incidentally, the Vermont Governor was in attendance, too. No one remembers his name. No pressure, Governor Shumlin!)
Hennessey has the good sense to hope the ribbon-cutting is completed Saturday morning, so the dignitaries can depart and the real party can start. She also admitted that the bridge’s closure has been a nightmare for her business. “We probably have had one of our slowest times ever,” she said. And even once the ferry was up and running, people still had misconceptions. Exhibit A? She said it took www.mapquest.com months to make it clear on their site that a ferry linked the two shores and a person didn’t have to swim between the two states.
So, I am glad on a variety of levels that nine months from now the lake will have given birth to a bridge. It’s not simply that the corridor’s economic vitality will get a much-needed shot in the arm. It’s that I’ll have an excuse to drink mimosas for nearly two days.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 23, 2011.)