"We have reached a critical point," said John Grady of the New York Department of Transportation. "We are no longer working underwater where we can't see."
Since work on the new Champlain Bridge began back in June, crews have been busy building the foundation of the new bridge underwater. John Grady of the New York Department of Transportation called it the most difficult part of the project. Now people will start seeing the new bridge take shape with the construction of seven piers that will support the arch bridge.
"Once we get the piers in place later this month, we will start to set the approaches starting on the Vermont side," Grady said.
Over the next eight months, 100 people will be working in shifts 20 hours a day putting the steel bridge together in pieces along the shore. The approaches should be finished by August, and then the arched deck will be put into place. Transportation officials say the new bridge will be more durable than the original and should last at least 75 years. They said the piers on the old bridge cracked because they were not properly reinforced.
"The new bridge is being designed with a lot of protection measures in both the water elements and steel elements," Grady said.
Drivers like Tom Rood of Jeffersonville can't wait to have the new bridge.
"In spite of the fact how fast they shuffle cars across the lake by ferry, it's 7 minutes each way, it would just be faster," Rood said.
"It definitely took some adjustments in the beginning with the schedules of the ferries," said Steve Kayhart of Kayhart Farms in West Addison.
Not having the bridge has been costly for the Kayhart farm. They have crops on both sides of the lake. This summer they had to hire extra workers and bring in additional equipment. But the biggest problem was dealing with limits to the number of large vehicles on each ferry.
"Before we could make a round trip from our field in New York back to our field here and back to the field in about 20 minutes, there were often times I would be sitting in the chopper waiting for a truck for over an hour," Kayhart said.
Transportation officials say the bridge should open to vehicle traffic on October 9, 2011. That is exactly one week before the two-year anniversary of the bridge closing.
If the contractor finishes the project early there is a $30,000 a day incentive. If the project is late, it will cost the company $30,000 a day.