Schenectady, NY
August 1, 2010

Batchellerville Bridge work a welcome sight
Talk of replacing aging structure has gone on for decades

By Stephen Williams, Gazette Reporter

EDINBURG - After a generation of plans and delays, preliminary work has begun on building a modern bridge across Great Sacandaga Lake.

The state Department of Transportation awarded a contract in June to replace the 80-year-old Batchellerville Bridge in rural northwestern Saratoga County, but some people remained skeptical until the day construction equipment arrived.

But in recent weeks, trees have been cut and chipped and equipment cleared the area where the western landing of the new bridge will be built. Heavier construction will be starting soon.

On Tuesday, top state officials will gather at the town park on the bridge's eastern end for a ceremony marking the project's launch.

One of the longest spans in upstate New York, the Batchellerville Bridge is the only direct link between the two halves of Edinburg that are divided by the lake and is vital to the local community and economy. The long deterioration of the 3,078-foot span has been a source of anxiety all around the lake — at least until work on a replacement started.

It's been a full generation since serious discussions about a new bridge began.

That's thanks to a remote southern Adirondack location, a high cost of replacement and a decades-long legal dispute over ownership and responsibility for its replacement.

But the shock of the abrupt closure last fall of the Crown Point bridge over Lake Champlain had an impact.

"I think the avoidance of what could have been a disaster at Crown Point and the associated publicity made everyone realize that they didn't want another Crown Point here," said Edinburg town Supervisor Jean Raymond.

Seeing action is an enormous relief to town officials and local residents who have watched the old bridge's steel rust and its concrete flake a little more every year. The bridge was restricted to alternating one-way traffic last August to reduce overall weight and stress on the aged structure. That's created its own hassles for bridge users.

Raymond has spent the last 20 years buttonholing, cajoling and lobbying anyone at higher levels of government who would listen to her about the need for a new bridge.

"I am happy to have a new bridge. Anything after that is immaterial," she said.

Long project

Under a $46.6 million contract with the state, the respected company Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors of Glenmont will have three years to build the new bridge and one more year to demolish the old one.

The Batchellerville Bridge carries an average of about 2,200 vehicles a day, though its volume may be double that now, the height of the summer recreation season.

The bridge was built by the state when the Sacandaga River was dammed to create Great Sacandaga Lake in 1930. The ownership dispute that delayed action for years was over whether the bridge belongs to Saratoga County, which maintains the road surface, or the state. The dispute was finally settled with an agreement for the state to pay for a new bridge and the county to then maintain it.

After that was settled, there was the money issue. It will cost tens of millions at a time when resources at all levels of government are stretched thin and the demand for transportation investment everywhere is enormous. This spring, regional transportation planning officials found an extra $20 million in federal funding on top of $39 million that was earlier allocated for Batchellerville.

When new bridge construction was put out to bid in 2008, it had turned out $39 million wasn't going to be nearly enough - the lowest bid came in at $64 million. DOT engineers redesigned the bridge to lower the cost, and there were high hopes that lower steel prices and economic pressures on the construction industry would help lower the cost further. When new bids were opened in May, Harrison & Burrowes had submitted the low bid at $46.6 million, well within the project's revised budget.

Like the Crown Point bridge, the Batchellerville span is vital to locals, who without it would be forced to take lengthy detours around the lake. Losing the bridge, Raymond has often said, would have had a devastating effect on the Edinburg community - on its schools, on its fire and ambulance services and on every local business on both sides of the lake.

"I'm so relieved this project is happening and all the awful ramifications of what could have happened are not there anymore," she said last week.

Under the contract, Harrison & Burrowes will be responsible for maintaining the current bridge until the new one is ready to handle traffic.

Better design

The old bridge has the sort of under-deck steel truss construction almost never used anymore, with two 10-foot travel lanes and narrow shoulders. The new bridge will be higher and wider. It will have fewer support piers in the water - 13 piers vs. 20 piers. It will have 11-foot travel lanes, four-foot shoulders and a five-foot sidewalk. That means pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to use the bridge safely.

Also, the Y-shaped intersection with South Shore Road at the eastern end of the bridge is going to be converted into a T-shaped intersection, and two roads leading to seasonal camps on the west side of the bridge will be realigned to improve safety.

The new bridge also won't have the 15-ton weight limit the old bridge has had since the day it was built - a weight limit that created a problem for the town's garbage trucks and for the heavy trucks serving the local logging industry.

"We are getting a bridge that will be able to handle more than 15 tons and that is the single most important thing," Raymond said. "It's going to be huge for our businesses, huge for our logging contractors."

It will also be a big relief when the alternating one-way traffic on the current bridge ends, locals said. Because the bridge is more than a half-mile long, delays can last several minutes, and there have been other issues.

"I have to say that the state police and the sheriff's department have been very responsive, but we have had people run the red lights, people who go too slow for the light timing, we've had occasions when the intersection is blocked," Raymond said. "Of course, with the summer traffic, there have been longer delays."

Pete VanAvery, a seasonal resident who co-founded the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee in 2000 over objections to the height of an earlier bridge design, said lake residents helped by bringing pressure on state officials.

"The state would probably still be dithering over this project if it hadn't been for the real heroes of this effort - the men and women of the lake community who said, 'We're not going to take it any more!' and became activists, taking their case to elected officials in Albany and Washington," VanAvery said.

This past winter, VanAvery organized a letter and e-mail campaign aimed at state and federal elected leaders, and local emergency responders formed the Edinburg Bridge of Life Committee and held well-publicized rallies at the bridge and on the Capitol steps in Albany.

"An army of regular people invested their sweat equity in persuading the state to take action, and the victory is theirs," VanAvery said.

Amsterdam, NY
August 4, 2010

Bridging the gap
Batchellerville reconstruction officially gets off the ground

By HEATHER NELLIS, Recorder News Staff

EDINBURG - Town Supervisor Jean Raymond walked away from Tuesday's groundbreaking event celebrating the $46 million Batchellerville Bridge replacement project with a gold-plated shovel - a rare occurrence this day in age, said officials.

The shovel was used in countless groundbreaking events prior to Tuesday, and aren't typically given out.

"That's saying a lot," said state Department of Transportation Regional Director Mary E. Ivey.

The officials that addressed the crowd during the event paid homage both to Raymond and her tireless advocacy to replace the 80-year-old bridge, and the critical link it represents.

DOT Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee said this bridge is one of 17,000 in the state that needs attention.

"They can't all be addressed at the same time, but we recognized the importance of this. We recognize the bridge is more than concrete and steel - it's a connection between people and communities; it's about people's lives and their economic well-being."

Twentieth Congressional District Rep. Scott Murphy said when he was elected last year, he promised his constituents he would visit each of the 137 towns within his district. When he visited Edinburg, more than 100 people gathered at the town hall on Military Drive, where he was prompted by multiple variations of the same question about replacing the structure.

"It became pretty clear to me what the big issue is," Murphy said. "I talk about infrastructure a lot - and we cannot build a 21st century economy on a 19th century infrastructure."

The original bridge was built by the state in 1930 in order to connect the two halves of the town, which would be separated upon flooding of the Great Sacandaga Reservoir, now known as the Great Sacandaga Lake.

In recent years, the bridge's integrity has dwindled significantly, yielding red flags for the first time in an annual state inspection in July 2009. The Saratoga County Department of Public Works reduced the bridge's capacity to one-way alternating traffic, and vehicles weighing more than 15 tons are prohibited from driving on it.

Remembering his first time driving over the bridge, Murphy said it was "frankly, a little scary. Things were falling off the side."

Financial constraints and question of ownership delayed replacement efforts, which began in the 1990s. Though state agency Hudson River-Black River Regulating District built the bridge, the state believed it was a county-owned structure because it carries county Route 7 across it. The county believed otherwise.

Ultimately, the two governing bodies came to the agreement that the state would fund the replacement, but the county will gain ownership after construction is complete. The new bridge has an 80-year-life expectancy.

Though that issue was resolved, funding remained an issue. The state originally budgeted $38.8 million for the project, but when it was released to the construction community for the taking in 2008, bids were returned in the $64 million range. Both bids received were rejected in February 2009.

Project Design Manager George Hodges headed back to the drawing board to find ways of reducing project costs. Reducing the number of piers from 20 to 12 was one route taken.

"It's less expensive, less material in the lake, and less impact on navigation," Hodges said. "Because of new construction techniques, we can make the piers wider so we need less of them."

The Capital District Transportation Committee came through in March with the remaining $20 million needed to cover costs. At the time, CDTC officials said they "couldn't in good conscience sit on" the funds they had available.

Hodges said another notable feature of the bridge design is its width, both for traffic and pedestrians. The visible impact of the new bridge will also be remarkable, he said.

"It's going to look a lot cleaner," he said, noting the new structure will clear 42 feet above the water to accommodate sail boats without disturbing scenic skyline views.

The new bridge will feature two 11-foot wide travel lanes, two 5-foot wide shoulders and a 5-foot raised sidewalk on the north side of the bridge.

In order for the roadway approaches to transition smoothly onto the new bridge, work will be done from the Wessels Road intersection west of the bridge to the intersection of South Shore Road. The Y-shaped intersection at South Shore Road will be reconstructed as a T-type intersection.

When asked if the new bridge is comparable to any others in the state, Hodges said no.

"It's one-of-a-kind," he said.

Glenmont-based company Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors will undertake the project, having submit the low bid.

The old bridge will remain open to traffic while the new bridge is built adjacent to it. The new bridge is expected to be complete in 2013. Demolition of the old bridge is expected in 2014, its remains to be dumped into the lake to create a fishing habitat.

"Maybe at the ribbon cutting, we can walk across the bridge," said Raymond, beaming.

Schenectady, NY
August 4, 2010


Town residents can breathe a sigh of relief Batchellerville Bridge replacement under way


The start of work on a new Batchellerville Bridge is a big relief to emergency responders and others who use the old bridge. But they say they'll be happier when the much-anticipated replacement bridge is done.

"I'm happy, but three years from now I'll be happier," Edinburg Fire Chief Wayne Seelow said before the official groundbreaking ceremony for the new bridge Tuesday afternoon.

Officials including U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy and acting state Transportation Commissioner Stanley Gee gathered in front of about 80 people in the town park at the east end of the bridge, which crosses the middle of Great Sacandaga Lake in remote northwestern Saratoga County.

"This is something that desperately needed to get done," said Murphy, D-Glens Falls, who recalled being bombarded with bridge questions at a meeting in town last year.

The 80-year-old bridge, now in an advanced state of deterioration, is going to be replaced with a new bridge under a $46.6 million contract the state awarded in June to Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors of Glenmont.

Work is beginning after 20 years of fits and starts, as ownership of the aging 3,078-foot span was disputed, and sufficient funding for a replacement bridge remained elusive - even as the bridge’s condition worsened.

"The easy part of the bridge is ahead of us. The funding is the hard part," said Rich Crouch, director of advocacy for The Crisis Program, the lobbying arm of the Associated General Contractors of New York State.

The bridge's worsening condition - now 3.09 on a scale where below 5.0 is considered deficient - led to imposition of alternating one-way traffic last August - and then the abrupt closing of the Crown Point bridge in September brought home the personal and economic impacts when major bridges in rural areas must be closed.

"If the bridge were closed, the detour would be 35 miles around the lake," said town Supervisor Jean Raymond. "The impact would have been devastating."

The existing bridge also has had a 15-ton weight limit, which has meant tanker fire trucks can't cross it while loaded, and loaded logging trucks can't cross it, either.

The bridge is the only link between the two halves of Edinburg divided by the lake that was created as a flood control reservoir in 1930, the same year the current bridge opened. Before that, there had only been a wooden covered bridge across the Sacandaga River.

In February, with Murphy advocating and local residents writing letters and making calls, regional transportation planners allocated an additional $20 million for the bridge. That was on top of $39 million appropriated a number of years ago, an amount that proved insufficient when the project was first bid in 2008.

"It has been a very long road. It's exciting to get to this point," said Mary Ivey, DOT Region One director.

The new bridge is being built immediately south of the old bridge. Work on the western abutment has already started, and in coming months local residents will see steel and concrete piers being installed in the water.

The new bridge will be taller than the old bridge, with 42-foot belowdeck clearance for sailboats. It will also be wider, with five-foot shoulders and a five-foot sidewalk.

"Once completed, the new bridge will accommodate larger, heavier vehicles and will allow motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians to cross Great Sacandaga Lake safely," Gee said.

Gee said the recession in the construction industry has meant the state is getting good prices on projects being put out to bid, including the Batchellerville project.

Construction work will soon become much more obvious.

Jeff DiStefano, vice president of Harrison & Burrowes, said pier installation will start by this fall and continue through next summer, with steel decking starting next August or September. The goal is to finish the new bridge in 2012 and demolish the old bridge in 2013.

A four-year schedule is helping hold the cost down, officials said.

"If you don’t have to rush to do it, you save money," said John Grady, DOT regional construction engineer.

Under the contract, Harrison & Burrowes will also be responsible for maintaining the old bridge in usable condition until the new bridge is ready.

The Edinburg Emergency Squad has had to contend with issues caused by the alternating traffic on the bridge, as have firefighters.

"It's a great day because at least we know it's happening," said Angela Reynolds-Ludwig, president of the emergency squad.

The finished bridge will be owned and maintained by Saratoga County, under a resolution of the state-county ownership dispute.

The county had maintained the state owned the old bridge because the state built it while creating Sacandaga Reservoir, though the road surface is maintained by the county.

"The ownership issue was always questionable. It made sense in the long run for the county to step up and take ownership," said county Public Works Committee Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, RCharlton.

Gloversville, NY
August 5, 2010

Officials break ground on bridge replacement

By EDWARD J. HUNT, The Leader-Herald

EDINBURG - Town Supervisor Jean Raymond, surrounded by many town residents and elected officials, helped to ceremonially begin the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project, on which she has worked for many years.

"I'm thrilled," Raymond said prior to the groundbreaking ceremony. "This has been a long time coming."

"Without this bridge, our town would simply die," she continued, speaking of the "tight-knit community" that is split in two by the Great Sacandaga Lake and depends on the bridge to connect its two halves. Raymond said she has long worried that, without the bridge, the "public safety and economic needs" of the town would have been "devastated."

The process began with a letter to the Department of Transportation in 1992, she said, in which she requested an examination of the bridge's 15-ton limit, which had been in place since it was built about 80 years ago.

Eighteen years of discussion and debate later, Raymond is looking forward to seeing the culmination of all that work.

Officials praised her work over the years to secure a new bridge for the town.

"We saw people really pull together around this project, and Jean was the leader of this effort," said U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls. "This area sometimes doesn't get the attention it deserves, but we made enough noise in Schenectady and Albany until they realized that this was a critical priority."

The Batchellerville project was accelerated by the demolition of the Crown Point Bridge in Essex County in December. That bridge was rated at 3.375 on a scale on which anything below 5 is considered deficient. The Batchellerville Bridge was rated even lower - 3.085.

"Bridges are more than infrastructure," said Stanley Gee, acting commissioner of the DOT. "We recognize that bridges are more than concrete and steel. It's really something that connects people and communities. It's about people's lives and economic well-being."

The start of the project comes as a relief to Edinburg Emergency Medical Services Capt. Doug Vannostrand. He said he was worried that emergency vehicles wouldn't be able to cross the bridge to reach the eastern side of the lake. He said first responders from other communities could take up to an hour to respond to a crisis in that part of the town.

Other representatives of the area, including state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, did not attend the ceremony in person but sent letters of congratulations.

Work on the bridge could been seen Tuesday. Jeff Distefano, vice president of Harrison and Burrowes, the contractor for the project, said the initial work to lay the base for the first pylons has been started. The contract for the project was awarded July 15 after DOT accepted the company's low bid of $46.6 million.

The current 3,078-foot bridge, now limited to one lane of alternating traffic controlled by stop signals at either end, will remain in use until its replacement is complete, sometime in 2013, according to the contractor.

When the new bridge is operational, the steel and infrastructure from the old bridge will be removed, and most of the pylons will be demolished where they stand, the concrete debris coming to rest on the lake bed to make new habitat for fish, as well as saving up to $2 million dollars in removal costs.

The new bridge, which will be built 25 feet south of the current bridge, will have two 11-foot-wide travel lanes, two five-foot-wide shoulders and a five-foot raised sidewalk along the north side.

It will accommodate all legal loads, according to DOT.