Monday, February 23, 2009

Richmond to Consider Ferry Service

February 21, 2009

Richmond to Consider Ferry Service

Richmond, Vermont - More than 6,000 cars drive across the Richmond bridge every day. Residents say it's a lifeline for local businesses, but that lifeline is about to be severed.

The Richmond Bridge will close in March for a four month long blitz renovation project. The bridge is decaying and has long been in need of major structural repairs. "When you take away the bridge then you take away the pedestrian crossing, it's the same thing as putting a wall right down in the middle of an existing community," said Ben Bush, owner of On the Rise Bakery.

Businesses on both sides of the Winooski River are concerned. Sales at this bakery dropped 20 percent when the state closed the bridge for a month last fall. Others -- like the Chubby Robin gift shop -- were impacted even more."We were down 75 percent. A huge difference," said Lisa Littwin, a co-owner of the shop.

Area businesses did take a hit the last time the bridge was closed, but a pedestrian walkway helped soften the blow. It remained open -- but owners are worried what will happen this time around when the walkway is closed. "The Bridge Street Café is closed Mondays for now. Everyone is kind of trying to gird themselves for this one way or another," said Erik Filkorn, a member of the Richmond Select board.

Town officials are also looking for ways to lessen the impact, and are now exploring the idea of pedestrian ferry service. "We came up with several concepts, possibly a cable ferry, maybe a floating drawbridge, or just our tried and true ferry operation, which we may be settling on," said Brian Costello of Burlington based Local Motion.

"We wouldn't be looking at this if we didn't think there was some possibility of finding the money," adds Filkorn.

The Temporary ferry service would cost about $18,000, but could be paid for using federal grants. Business owners say it would keep Richmond residents shopping in town and would prevent tourists from using alternative routes.

"I would think that would actually be an attraction," said Filkorn. "I mean it's going to be a big show, so we're adding a ride to Richmond potentially like at an amusement park."

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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