TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: November 25, 2008

The Batchellerville Bridge Replacement Project has hit a snag. Only two contractors submitted bids, and the lower of the two was for a whopping $64 million. That's $25 million or 65 percent higher than the $39 million budgeted by the NYS Department of Transportation.

At a time when the U.S. economy is cratering, this could be a deal breaker. The bids were opened November 20, giving DOT 45 days to decide what to do. It has at least three alternatives: 1) accept the lower bid, 2) toss out the two bids and try again, or 3) delete some features from the structure and request bids on a simplified design.

The reality is that even the proposed $39 million budget posed a problem for DOT. In July, DOT's project manager told me that though the project is federally funded, the agency did not have enough money to cover the total cost of construction. She added, however, that DOT had "come up with a plan that will allow us to proceed with construction by adjusting the schedules of some other projects in our program."

That, of course, was before the state and U.S. economy went on life support. Thanks to our dysfunctional state legislature, New York's bridges and roads are in terrible shape. The reality is that the Batchellerville Bridge Replacement Project must compete with hundreds of other projects throughout the state, each viewed as critical by its supporters. Each community will wield sharp elbows and political pull for its share of a limited pot of bucks.

So if a community needs to replace a deteriorating bridge that carries more traffic than the Batchellerville Bridge, you can be sure that DOT will hear about it. And don't think that the competition won't point out that while Great Sacandaga and Lake George offer nearly the same amount of water surface, the latter's economy has done just fine without any bridge at all.

The good news is that there are very compelling arguments in favor of replacing the Batchellerville Bridge.

The structure is a vital gateway to the Adirondacks. The tens of thousands of tourists who cross it annually are critical to businesses in Edinburg, Northville, Day, and other towns and villages. It links the two halves of the Town of Edinburg, separated in 1930 when the Sacandaga Reservoir was completed, and provides South Shore Road residents with ready access to schools, hospitals, grocery and other stores, pharmacies, and service stations. It also allows fire trucks and ambulances to respond quickly to emergencies on the South Shore.

DOT, which inspects the deteriorating Batchellerville Bridge once a year, assures us that it is safe. If a serious problem develops, the agency probably could extend the structure's life by placing a traffic light at each end and instituting one-way traffic. That would be inconvenient but better than the alternative -- a 35-mile trip around the lake.

The bridge was built in 1930. It is a flat structure and, although antiquated, its weight limit has not been reduced. Vehicles of up to 15 tons are still allowed to travel in each direction, which means that when two such vehicles thunder past one another, heading in opposite directions, the bridge is hefting 30 tons.

The proposed bridge, as currently designed, would be radically different from the existing one -- a Cadillac compared to a Model T. It would be 41 feet wide (vs. 28 feet now). It would be arch-like -- not flat. Out in the middle, its deck would rise to 50 feet above the lake (compared to the present 32 feet), giving it a 42-foot vertical clearance underneath (vs. 15 feet now). This would allow most of the lake's sailboats to pass underneath.

In structural capacity, it would be a Goliath, capable of supporting 45 tons (vs. 15 tons now). It also would have a 5-foot-wide raised concrete sidewalk on the north side (vs. no sidewalk now) and two 5-foot-wide shoulders (vs. 3 feet now).

One design feature that should be held sacrosanct is its pair of 11-foot-wide travel lanes (vs. 10-feet-wide now). When you see a loaded logging truck barreling toward you, you'll welcome the added breathing room.

But are there goodies that could be trimmed away, reducing the construction cost? You betcha! The BBAC was the first advocate for a sidewalk, arguing that more people would walk out onto the bridge to enjoy the magnificent view than would ever sail beneath it. If that sidewalk is eliminated, some of the bridge's height should be sacrificed, too.

DOT announced this design in 2002 after three years of public meetings marked by bitter arguments over the bridge's height.

Owners of a handful of very tall sailboats wanted the bridge to be 13 feet higher, which would have elevated its deck up to the tips of the lamp posts on the existing bridge. The BBAC led the opposition, arguing that such a mammoth concrete-and-steel structure would devastate the lake's vista and that an arch-like structure would be less safe to drive in icy, windy weather.

Then, after DOT announced its decision in 2002, we were treated to a dismaying spectacle as the state and Saratoga County argued over which should pay for the new bridge. This dispute was not settled until 2006, when the state agreed that it would pay (largely with federal funds), after which the county would take over responsibility for the structure.

As the 78-year-old Batchellerville Bridge rusts away on cracked concrete piers, it is a daily reminder that members of the state legislature have repeatedly wasted tax dollars on pork projects designed to get themselves reelected instead of investing the money on modernizing or replacing our roads and bridges.

The reservoir's level is around 757 feet above sea level, about 1 foot above target.