Officials from both the U.S. and Canada gathered on a one-of-a-kind bridge in Vermont Monday to celebrate its reopening.
“I was so afraid they were going to close it forever,” said Cora Mae Smith of Stevens Mills, referring to the bridge jointly owned by Vermont and Quebec that connects East Richford, Vermont and Sutton, Quebec, spanning the Missisquoi River.
A bridge first opened on the site in 1918, but was destroyed in the 1927 flood, said Joe Flynn, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. That bridge was replaced in 1929, he said, and rebuilt again in 1979.
For the latest rebuild, the rural link was closed from April of 2018 to June of 2019 for $4.4-million in needed deck and truss improvements. It is expected to have a lifespan of 40 years, Flynn told reporters. It is the only bridge Vermont jointly owns with Canada, he noted.
The closure last year left Smith having to drive out of her way to the nearest crossing to go between her properties in Canada and the U.S., she said.
“It’s much faster,” Smith said of the link closer to her home. “It’s important to have a bridge here.”
The crossing isn’t exactly widely used. According to personnel at the U.S. border crossing station on the East Richford side of the bridge, they generally see between 10-15 crossings per day.
However, the employees noted at times, there are more visitors—especially during weekends when skiers are heading to the Jay Peak Resort, or on summer weekends when people pass through on sightseeing bike tours.
That is the type of trip Vermont wants to see more of, said the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Lindsay Kurrle.
Kurrle called outdoor recreation a big growth area in Vermont’s overall tourism sector, which she said now attracts 13-million annual visits and generates $2.3-billion in economic activity.
“Along our northern border, it is Canadian travelers who are helping us in this quest,” Kurrle said of the aim to grow visitation.
Marie-Claude Francoeur is the government of Quebec’s delegate to New England.
“Quebecers love Vermont,” Francoeur observed, adding that there are close cross-border connections throughout much of New England. “We have a border with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. And those borders don’t cross in big towns—they’re small towns. And that’s where it’s very meaningful, because people need to have that fluidity. Families are on both sides, and they have been for centuries.”
Fire departments serving the small towns on both sides of the border also help each other out in emergencies, through mutual aid pacts, added Linda Collins, the vice chair of the Richford Select Board. Having the bridge back would thus be helpful in case of a fire or hazmat situation, she indicated.
Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said the region is bonded together—with both sides of the border seeing benefits from their close relationship through the bridge that has linked them for more than 100 years.
“I just think it’s important to work together in any way we can,” Scott told necn. “Respecting the border, but respecting the people on both sides.”
Vermont is responsible for 80% of the bridge cost and maintenance, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said, with Quebec picking up the remaining 20%.