ADDISON, Vt.—Traffic is again crossing a narrow stretch of southern Lake Champlain, thanks to a temporary ferry service that began operation Monday, sparing some commuters a nearly 100-mile detour around the site of a now-demolished bridge.
The first ferry left Addison, Vt., around 5 a.m. and reached Crown Point about three minutes later. The ferry made its first return trip from the New York side of the lake around 5:15 a.m.
New York state Department of Transportation officials said the free ferry service will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The ferry departs Vermont on the hour and half-hour, and New York on the quarter hour and three-quarter hour.
Gov. Jim Douglas and other officials from Vermont were among the handful of passengers on board for the first crossing. They joined New York DOT Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee, 46 vehicles and several dozen passengers for the return trip.
Also aboard the inaugural voyage was Lisa Cloutier, owner of the Bridge Restaurant in Addison. Cloutier said she handed out coffee and doughnuts to motorists waiting on the Crown Point shore.
"It's going to help," Cloutier said of the new ferry service. "Just having this corridor open again, bringing traffic in front of the restaurant again, it's just going to be fantastic."
Her business was among those on both sides of the border that suffered when the 80-year-old Lake Champlain Bridge was closed in October after being deemed unsafe. The 2,184-foot span was demolished with explosives on Dec. 28. Construction on a new bridge is to begin this spring, with completion in 2011.
Joe Bodette, owner of the Frenchman's Restaurant in the village of Crown Point, 90 miles north of Albany, called the ferry a "godsend."
"I fully expect our business to rebound quite nicely," said Bodette, who estimated his revenues dropped 40 percent after the bridge closed.
For now, there's a two-axle, 15-ton weight limit for vehicles boarding the ferry. Officials said the restriction will be increased to 40 tons and multiple axles when a second ferry begins operating later this month.
The ferry, operated by the Burlington, Vt.-based Lake Champlain Transportation Co., can accommodate 50 vehicles.