State officials from both Vermont and New York broke ground on the new Champlain Bridge Friday in Crown Point, N.Y.
Since closing the bridge for safety reasons in October, agencies on both sides of the lake have been working to rejoin these regions.
"We thank you for your patience, but you won't have to be patient much longer," said Gov. David Paterson, D-New York. "We are starting construction on a new bridge today."
Construction officials say the new bridge design is more pedestrian and bike friendly than its predecessor.
"What I see on the new design that we're going to get ready to build-- it's a wider structure, there's more access for sidewalks, so I would definitely say it's better," said Mark Mallett of Flatiron Construction.
Flatiron is based out of Colorado. It plans to begin selecting crews for the project in the coming days.
"I expect approximately 50 craft employees, different trades, at peak production," Mallett said.
"I guess you could say I'm infatuated with the bridge," Hans Anders said.
Anders recently completed his senior thesis at Middlebury College about the regional impact of the bridge closing and said he has been looking forward to this day.
"Having seen all the suffering and having seen how it impacted everyone living on both sides of the lake-- it's just great to see that they're actually moving ahead and that there will be a new bridge," Anders said.
While some were celebrating, others were wondering what's next.
"As a labor business manager for this area, I have 25 crew members that live in sight of this bridge that are currently out of work," said John Donoghue of the Bricklayers Allied Craftworkers.
Gov. Jim Douglas declined to sign a project labor agreement that would ensure union subcontractors would be selected for bridge construction to level the playing field for union and nonunion workers, but union reps say they saw it differently.
"One of the things that has been very frustrating is that this has been pitted as a union versus nonunion issue and the reality is this is a worker safety and local jobs for local people issue," said Prarie Wells of the Bricklayers Allied Craftworkers.
Union representatives say their biggest concern about the absence of a project labor agreement is that Flatiron can choose to bring crews from out of the region instead of hiring local laborers.
"They made it very clear they plan to hire a lot of people from both New York and Vermont on this project," said Douglas, R-Vermont. "So I think they are working to keep that commitment so a lot of folks in our region will have jobs."
The bridge is slated to open in September of 2011.
Labor unions are now in discussion with Flatiron Construction to work out a new project labor agreement.
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