Last month, theLake ChamplainBridge, commonly known as theCrown PointBridgelocally, opened to the public for the first time in two years. While the opening was a momentous occasion for the communities near the bridge it has had little impact in Whitehall, business owners say.
When the bridge closed in Oct. of 2009, hundreds, if not thousands of residents who live in the communities surrounding the span were essentially stranded.
People who lived inAddison,Vt.and worked in Crown Point or at the International Paper factory in Ticonderoga (or New Yorkers who worked in Vermont) were forced to make the long drive around Lake Champlain, passing through Whitehall at the southern terminus of the lake.
Although the bridge’s closure was surely a hard burden to bear for commuters and business owners who depended on interstate travel, it was thought to be an opportunity forWhitehall(especially those located alongPoultney Streetand Broadway) to capitalize on a greater flow of traffic in the community.
But two years later, most business owners say the impact of the bridge’s closure and its recent reopening was negligible at best.
“We haven’t really seen any difference,” said Whitehall Stewart’s Shop manager Ann Bittle. “We haven’t seen any drop off.”
Bittle said the bridge’s closure generated a brief spike in business but the volume of customers quickly returned to normal after officials began to offer a ferry service near the site of the old bridge.
“I think after awhile, people found an alternative route and stuck to their habits,” Bittle said. “And when the ferry opened, that helped (them) to.”
Francis and Cheryl Putorti, who own Putorti’s Market, expressed a similar sentiment.
“It never really affected us either way,” said Francis “Fra” Putorti. “We had a few customers who came in-maybe three or four-but not many.”
Carol Winchell, who owns Carol’s Collectibles said that even though she markets herself heavily in the Ticonderoga and Crown Point areas, her business saw little impact from the bridge’s closing and reopening.
She said her business tends to attract patrons who are traveling to the area to shop at antique and second hand stores, and doesn’t necessarily get a lot of walk in traffic, especially from people who were on their way to and from work and thus had even less reason to stop in.
“It really hasn’t affected me,” said Winchell.
Kazim Hussnane who owns the Village Sunoco at the intersection of Poultney Street and Broadway says was one local merchant who has seen a difference in business.
Hussnane said when the bridge closed he did see a slight up tick in business said he used to own a store in Crown Point and has seen a few familiar faces from Crown Point in his store in Whitehall over the last few years.
“I’ve definitely seen a difference. I don’t know if that’s (the bridge reopening) the reason, but I’ve seen several old faces.”
Whitehall Police Sergeant Richard LaChapelle who routinely conducts Department of Transportation safety checks on large trucks passing through Whitehall said he hasn’t noticed much of a difference since the bridge opened.
“It’s about the same, I really haven’t noticed much a difference,” he said.
The original bridge was built in 1929 but had to be closed after inspectors deemed the bridge unsafe.
When the bridge closed, commuters faced a nearly two and half hour, 100 mile drive around the lake. However, four months after it closed, the Lake Champlain Transportation Company began operating a 24 hour, seven-day-a-week ferry that dramatically cut down on travel time.
On Nov. 7 the new bridge officially reopened for business.
Built at the same exact location at the old bridge, the new bridge is an eight story, 402 foot long, 1.8 million pound arch constructed in Port Henry.
The project was expected to take eight years to complete but was finished in only two.