Love a Replacement Bridge?

At dinner Sunday night, a friend asked me, “How can you be excited for the new [Lake Champlain] bridge? You’re a preservationist. They blew up the old one.” He was sort of giving me a hard time just for the heck of it, but his question made me evaluate how I can be enamored with the new bridge. And it made me think that more than one person is wondering the same thing.

The fundamental reason for loving this new bridge is due to the fact that I have seen the entire bridge construction project and it has been a part of my daily job. Anytime a project reaches completion is an exciting event. Witnessing a large (regionally speaking) construction project has been and continues to be an amazing experience, personally and professionally.

This has been a multi community and government agency effort. This new bridge means the world to the communities it serves; as the opening day speeches said again and again, this bridge was their lifeline. Once again, the bridge will change the lives of regional residents.

Furthermore, it is an interesting study in bridge architecture. The 1929 bridge was a continuous deck truss. The 2011 bridge is a modified tied network arch. Both represent the advances of technology at the time and both respect the surrounding environment.

Right, but what about the fact that the historically significant 1929 bridge was demolished? By EXPLOSION (what a dramatic ending). Good point. Of course, a rehabilitation project is preferable to demolition and replacement. Maintenance should not have been ignored and a better plan should have been in place to protect and care for the 1929 Lake Champlain Bridge. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen again. Historic buildings or bridges are expensive to replace.

As preservationists we can mourn the loss of a historic resource, and we do because resources are a part of our collective history; however, we cannot mourn to the point of despising thoughtful new construction. We cannot hold grudges; we can only use what we’ve learned and improve our respect and care of resources for the future. This is not to say that historic structures can be demolished because replacing them will be exciting and the beginning of a new story. It simply means that you make the best of situations and see the greater story.

So, do I love this new bridge? Yes. Do I wish the historic bridge could have been rehabilitated? Absolutely.