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What would it take for a new bridge between New York and Vermont?

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 4:59 PM EDT|Updated: May. 9, 2022 at 5:23 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - What if there was a direct connection from Vermont’s largest city to the North Country’s largest city? That’s an idea New Yorkers have talked about for decades, and now there is a push to make it happen.

A group on Facebook known as “Bridge the Gap” has looked into logistics since 2018. They say the idea of connecting Plattsburgh and Burlington is ideal but might not be feasible. However, they say connecting Cumberland Head to Grand Isle could be possible using a similar route to the one the ferry currently uses.

Supporters say it would save time and money for commuters and those in need of medical services.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not,” said Darlene O’Neal-Parks of Saranac.

O’Neal-Parks says she crosses into Vermont regularly for medical appointments and while she loves the idea of a bridge, she has this one question: “How much are our taxes going to go up?”

The idea of a bridge has been a topic of conversation in the North Country for years.

A feasibility study was done in the ‘80s that found a bridge wouldn’t be necessary because of the population, but SUNY-Plattsburgh Environmental Studies and Geography Professor Liou Xie says the population has grown and it’s time for a new study.

“I cannot find environmental data, I cannot find traffic data, I cannot find anything,” Xie said.

Xie is an economic and urban geologist. She has spent the last year looking into and lobbying for a bridge.

Xie says this past year, it was clear to see the ferry isn’t a reliable form of transportation with many closures during January and February.

She also says the ferry adds more time to commutes on top of its impact on commuters’ wallets, and there are concerns regarding medical travel, as O’Neal-Parks points out.

“We are starting to have fewer and fewer medical services here,” Xie said.

There are bridges to the north and south, but that, again, would tack on time.

It’s estimated the bridge would be 1.7 miles long just north or south of the current ferry route there.

Xie says per Middlebury College data, the deepest point there in Lake Champlain is around 195 feet.

As for cost, she says it’s unclear because a study would need to be done.

“The funding really should be a mixture of many different things and there are so many different grants to apply to, and that can’t be done by the people,” Xie said.

She says a bridge would also be beneficial to the regional economy, offering an easier way to travel between the two cities.

Xie says she’s spoken to elected officials and they told her three reports need to be done in order to move forward: environmental feasibility, engineering feasibility and economic feasibility.

“If we don’t speak up, they will be invested in somewhere else and in other communities’ bridges, other communities’ roads. Because we don’t have money, that’s why we need help, that’s why we need a bridge to be built,” Xie said.

I reached out to the ferry for more information on transportation, like the average number of cars and to hear their thoughts on a bridge but I had not yet heard back when this story was published.

In a statement, North Country Assemblyman Billy Jones said: “I like many residents on both sides of Lake Champlain believe a bridge between Cumberland Head and Grand Isle would be beneficial for all, especially for those who commute every day and in case of medical emergencies. Since this is a bridge between two states, a bridge will only be possible with collaboration between federal, state, and local partners. I’ve had communication with the New York State Department of Transportation and continue to push for a feasibility study to get this process started.”

I also reached out to Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, but did not hear back before this story was published.

Click here for more on the research done by Bridge the Gap.

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