TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: August 1, 2010

The Batchellerville Bridge replacement project, 11 years in the planning, is under way at last! Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors of Glenmont, NY, has kicked off the project by clearing trees and other vegetation from what will be the new bridge's west abutment. H&B won the contract with a low bid of $46.6 million, $12 million under the state Department of Transportation's estimate.

Even though the year is more than half over, the lake community will see significant progress before the winter break. Four piers will be finished, with several others in various stages of construction. Because steel girders are now available in longer lengths than in the 1920s, when the old bridge was built, the new span will require only 12 piers vs. the 20 that support its deteriorating predecessor.

The Batchellerville Bridge carries Saratoga County Route 98 across Great Sacandaga Lake at Edinburg and is a vital gateway to the southern Adirondacks. The replacement project will run until Spring 2014. The new bridge will be open to traffic in 2013, with the old bridge demolished the following year. The structure will be 3109 feet long.

As it swoops across Great Sacandaga Lake at its mid-point, the new bridge will offer a dramatically different profile from its predecessor. While the latter is low and flat, the new structure will rise to a high arch out in the center, giving most sailboats ready access to both halves of the lake for the first time in the reservoir's 83-year history. Only the smallest sailboats can pass under the existing structure.

At the tip of the arch, County Route 98 will be 50 feet 8 inches above the water (vs. 32 feet now). Since the concrete/steel structure beneath County Route 98 will extend down 8 feet 8 inches, this will provide a vertical clearance of 42 feet for sailboats. (These measurements assume that the lake is at 768 feet above sea level -- its highest target level. As the reservoir discharges water during the summer, the water level will drop and the vertical clearance increase.) The old bridge has a vertical clearance of only 15 feet.

The new bridge also will be substantially wider than the old one: 40 feet vs. 28 feet. It will feature two 11-foot-wide (vs. two 10-foot wide) travel lanes and two 5-foot-wide (vs. two 3-foot-wide) shoulders. On its north side, it will have a 5.6-foot-wide raised sidewalk (vs. none on the old bridge). The BBAC was the first organization to push for that sidewalk, which was not in the state Department of Transportation's original plans. It will give pedestrians access to one of the best views in the Adirondack Park.

The new bridge will be built less than 15 feet away from the old one. The east abutment will be raised 6 inches and the west abutment 6 feet. The latter change will require the realignment of two roads at the west abutment that provide access to neighboring homes. At the east abutment, where the bridge intersects with South Shore Road, the existing Y-shaped intersection will be converted into a T-shaped intersection.

The new bridge will have an estimated life span of 50 years. Under the contract, Harrison & Burrowes is required to keep the old bridge functioning until the new bridge is open for business. As a cost-saving measure, the old piers will not be removed. Instead, they will be demolished in place, with the concrete rubble deposited on the lake's bottom. This will provide a habitat for fish.

On Tuesday, August 3, according to an article in today's Sunday Gazette, "top state officials will gather at the town park on the bridge's eastern end for a ceremony marking the project's launch." Unofficially, I've heard that the starting time is 2:00 p.m., but if you plan to attend, you should confirm the time and date with the folks at Edinburg Town Hall (863-2034).

When a local newspaper asked me to comment on the bridge replacement project, I submitted the following statement:

We are delighted to see that the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project is finally under way. After watching the old bridge slowly rust away and begin to disintegrate before our eyes, it was music to our ears when we finally heard the snarl of the contractor's chain saws, the thud of trees hitting the ground, and the roar of a chipping machine chewing up limbs and branches at the west abutment.

The project's kick-off came almost 11 years to the day after NYSDOT held its first public informational meeting on the bridge on July 24, 1999 at Edinburg Town Hall. This has been a frustrating wait. Much of the delay was caused by an interminable dispute between the state and Saratoga County over who would pay for and maintain the new bridge. It took years to resolve, with the state finally agreeing to pay the tab and the county to assume ownership. That was followed by a long search for funding.

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. While Town of Edinburg Supervisor Jean Raymond continued to work behind the scenes, thousands of permanent and seasonal residents bombarded the Governor and other elected officials with phone calls, letters, and e-mails. 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.

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board does not plan to meet in August. The next board meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 14, 2010, at Courtyard by Marriott, 11 Excelsior Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY.

The lake is at 765.6 feet above sea level, just slightly below target.