Transportation & Infrastructure

Missisquoi Bay Bridge

The Missisquoi Bay Bridge connects Swanton and Alburg, Vermont.

Travel routes have crossed the Lake Champlain Basin since pre-European settlement of the region. A network of waterways and footpaths through the forests connected settlements, provided access to hunting and fishing grounds, and served as trade routes. These early transportation corridors evolved through the centuries, ultimately resulting in the complex infrastructure we see in the landscape today.

In the early nineteenth century, canals that allowed water travel between major waterways of the region dramatically changed trade and commerce, transforming the flow of goods within the Basin. By the end of the 1800s, the value of canals was surpassed by trains that would eventually connect Lake Champlain to the rest of the growing nation. With the onset of the automobile, the early footpaths grew wider and then became crude roads—first mud, then washboard timber, then tar and pavement. The Basin currently has thousands of miles of roadways, ranging from interstate highways to local unpaved routes.

Lake Champlain itself has always been a major transportation corridor. From early trade in dugout canoes to the timber heyday on the Lake, when Burlington, Vermont was one of the largest timber ports in the nation and canal schooners carried goods, the Lake and its tributaries provided critical links to the rest of the world. Today, the Lake is still a vital waterway, connecting the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Champlain Canal and Hudson River. One year-round and three seasonal ferries provide important links between New York and Vermont for residents and visitors. The Lake also provides important recreational access.

The Basin’s transportation infrastructure continues to evolve. Issues such as new train lines and highway construction continue to be important topics of discussion in local and regional planning efforts. The promotion of alternative forms of transportation have resulted in bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, such as bike lanes and recreation paths that aim to relieve congestion on local roadways and contribute to the health and quality of life of citizens. These forms of transportation are critically important to the regional economy, from farmers and other local producers to the ever-growing tourism sector.

While this increasingly sophisticated transportation infrastructure make the lives of residents and visitors easier and more enjoyable, it also comes with significant water quality and habitat challenges. Impervious surfaces increase runoff and the amount of pollutants delivered to our waterways. Aquatic invasive species are transported on canals and boat trailers, threatening new habitats to which they are introduced. The threats posed by these modern conveniences are being actively addressed by management partners throughout the Basin.