TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: December 1, 2012

The new Batchellerville Bridge was opened to traffic -- with zero fanfare -- around mid-afternoon on Thursday, November 15. Originally, Town of Edinburg officials had planned to hold a formal opening ceremony the following Monday, but the New York State Department of Transportation called Thursday morning to say that the affair was canceled. According to media reports, DOT was unable to obtain the necessary approvals for state participation.

Then, after lunch on Thursday, town officials received a call telling them that the bridge would be opened that afternoon. That triggered a scramble to alert town residents. There was no ribbon cutting, no speechifying, no ceremony to celebrate the completion of the $47 million bridge-building project a year ahead of schedule. With only one reporter on hand to mark the historic occasion, the first vehicle to cross the span was a Town of Edinburg fire truck.

The new bridge features two 11-foot-wide travel lanes, two five-foot-wide shoulders, and a five-foot-wide raised sidewalk on the north side of the bridge. The 82-year-old span it replaces had two 10-foot-wide travel lanes, two three-foot-wide shoulders, and no sidewalk. The new structure can safely handle any legal vehicle on the road, while the old one was posted with a weight limit of 15 tons since opening in 1930.

Unlike its flat predecessor, the new bridge is arched and offers a maximum vertical clearance (the empty space between the water surface and the bottom of the superstructure) of 42 feet when the lake is at 768 feet above sea level. Most of the lake's sailboats will be able to pass underneath. The old bridge had a vertical clearance of only 15 feet. On the Batchellerville side, the "Y" intersection at South Shore Road is now a "T" intersection.

With the new bridge operational, the contractor has immediately turned his attention to demolishing the old structure. On November 28, the crew began to rip up the old deck, beginning at the Batchellerville end. A Batchellerville resident tells me that the racket "is louder than when they were pounding into bedrock." The deck will probably be long gone by the time snowbirds begin returning to the lake next April.

The project is 80% federally funded with the remaining 20% coming from New York State.

Now that the new bridge is up, don't be surprised if property values neighboring the structure go down. Drive across the bridge, and you'll quickly hear why: excess noise pollution. On my first trip across, my ears were instantly assailed by yowls from the tires on my SUV. When I looked closely at the bridge's deck, the cause was evident: Its surface isn't smooth. Instead, it is streaked with grooves, narrow channels that run from one end of the structure to the other.

I talked with someone who had walked out on the bridge, and he reported that passing vehicles made a considerable racket. When I stood on my front lawn, it was painfully obvious that the new span was noisier than the old one. Since the new bridge also is much higher, tire/pavement noise will travel farther up and down the lake as well as inland.

According to the International Grooving & Grinding Association, grooved bridge decks increase water drainage, reduce hydroplaning risks, and aid in a vehicle's control. The association claims that statistics show a clear relationship between grooved surfaces and a reduction in accident rates. That may be the case. But an Internet search shows that tire whine frequently results in an outcry from neighboring communities.

I can understand why a grooved deck might be important on a flat bridge. But our new bridge is arched, plus the deck is crowned -- with its middle higher than its sides. Wouldn't those two factors solve the drainage problem?

In any event, traffic is at a minimum on the bridge at this time of year. When I crossed it one morning earlier this week, mine was the only vehicle on the span. We'll have to wait until spring for a full assessment of the problem.

Sometimes the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's legal problems seem endless, with one court's ruling immediately leading to an appeal or a new lawsuit. Well, it looks as if one legal issue has finally been resolved.

You will recall that five downstream counties (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington) sued the District after it billed them for $4 million for flood-control benefits. This was to replace the income lost by the District after a Federal court ruled in 2008 that it could no longer bill downstream hydro plant operators for its operating costs, which supplied more than 80 percent of its annual revenue. The counties argued that this was illegal.

In May, a mid-level state court ruled against the counties. They then asked the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, for permission to appeal (required because the mid-level court had ruled unanimously against them). The latest news is that the Court of Appeals has turned them down. This seems to indicate that the five downstream counties will be the source of most of the District's revenues until a very warm place freezes over.

That mid-level court did throw the five counties a bone. It ruled that the state must pay a share of the assessment for downstream flood-control benefits -- since it owns roads, bridges, and parks in the flood-control plain. But the five counties challenged the District's first attempt to establish how much the state owed, arguing that it was undervalued. The District had hoped to have a revised assessment ready for approval by the November board meeting, but missed that deadline. It is now on the agenda for the December 11 board meeting (see below).

The lake is at 755.1 feet above sea level -- exactly on target.

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 11, 2012, at Room 100 (Conference Room #1) of the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington Street, Watertown, NY.