Group to rally for bridge to Vermont

·5 min read

Oct. 23—PLATTSBURGH — A local group looking to revive the push for a bridge connecting the Plattsburgh area to Vermont is set to hold a rally today in an effort to drum up support.

Members of Bridge the Gap, a public Facebook group created in February 2018, plan to be at Trinity Park in downtown Plattsburgh from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

One of the event organizers, Liou Xie, a SUNY Plattsburgh professor and urban and economic geographer, said the timing was influenced by the federal government's focus on trying to pass an infrastructure bill.

"Since there is money there and obviously all states are looking for projects to be using part of that money, ... we're trying to speak up, make us louder and more visible to the state level (to say) that, 'When you are considering projects to apply for this funding, think of us — we need a bridge.'"

FEASIBILITY STUDY

The other group members putting the event together are Dr. Jerome "Jerry" Davis, a retired neurosurgeon whose bridge advocacy has spanned several decades; local business owner Heather Van Arsdel; and local resident Tom Titherington.

Van Arsdel was part of Bridge the Gap when it originally formed. The goal was and is to get a feasibility study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on building the bridge, ideally from Cumberland Head to Grand Isle, which would update a similar decades-old study.

But efforts fizzled when, even after laying a lot of groundwork and speaking with transportation officials on both sides of the lake, they ran into dead ends, Van Arsdel said.

The decision was made to shift to a grassroots approach, an effort that restarted several months ago.

The members said they were not looking to "bash" or "bad mouth" the ferry, but rather to advocate for a bridge.

"If we were to do a bridge, if we were to do a public-private partnership, they could even be an investor," Xie said.

Lake Champlain Transportation Company, which owns and operates the ferry that goes from Cumberland Head to Grand Isle, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

PATIENT SAFETY, FEES

During both a September meeting of the group and the Clinton County Legislature Transportation Committee's meeting Monday, the members put forth multiple arguments for building a bridge.

Davis, who along with Xie attended the Transportation Committee meeting, posited that the ferry itself could be turned into a tourist attraction, and expressed concern about the safety of patients being transferred from University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

"If you've got a bridge, it's a shorter time span to the hospital if you've got to get somebody over there quickly," he told the legislators.

Xie had previously noted that could be a factor depending on the availability of airlift services.

Davis also argued the fees for using the ferry are "extremely high" and could place a financial burden on families having to cross to visit hospitalized loved ones each day.

Titherington told the Press-Republican he once fell into that category; when his mother suffered an aneurysm the costs added up even though she was only hospitalized in Burlington for a week.

MONOPOLY, ENVIRONMENT

Davis said he feels the ferry belonging to one family is a monopoly, which he described as "un-American."

He does not agree with arguments that building a bridge would be cost-prohibitive or that the lake is too deep for a bridge to be feasible, pointing to larger pre-existing bridges.

Xie said an argument posed against constructing a bridge is the pollution it could bring to the lake.

"But the alternative is having a ferry run every single day, with the diesel, with cars idling, waiting to get on ferries," she said.

CIRCULATION, INTEGRATION

Xie said it makes sense from a regional economics perspective that integration would lead to a better, growing economy and population.

"With more people you have more goods and services being sold and that's why it's important to have circulation and connection and integration instead of isolation."

At the Transportation Committee meeting, Xie linked that isolation to poverty and local housing issues, arguing that a bridge would help attract better housing and more business and industry, and with that more better-paying jobs.

Xie spoke about how the economy of her native China suffered due to isolation for decades in the middle of the 20th century, saying the situation only turned around when the country opened up to the world.

"I don't have to use a whole country's experience to tell you circulation helps the economy to grow."

"It's becoming more and more obvious that to connect the two communities, to make life better on both sides, it's really a non-brainer," Davis said.

DIGEST AND RESPOND

Citing responses to an informal survey Bridge the Gap posted to its Facebook group, Xie said she has heard from daily commuters who say the extra time they spend waiting for and riding the ferry is "torture" and "painful."

"They really wish they could spend that extra hour — sometimes, in frustrating situations, two hours — with their families than in agony on the road."

At the Transportation Committee meeting, Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry said he agreed a bridge would probably help both sides, but wondered if more people would cross from Plattsburgh to take advantage of Burlington than the other way around.

County Administrator Michael Zurlo pointed to the many local stakeholders involved, and said the county would digest what was presented and respond.

Email Cara Chapman:

cchapman@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman

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