LAKE PLACID - A state Department of Transportation engineer says the Route 73 bridge over the West Branch of the AuSable River could reopen to two-way traffic as soon as Saturday, in time for Labor Day weekend tourists.
The bridge has been restricted to one-way travel since late Sunday, when a massive mound of trees and debris, brought downstream by the flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene, backed up behind the upstream side of the span, flooding the bridge and parts of the highway with several feet of water.
Crews from Reale Construction of Ticonderoga were working Thursday to remove the debris pile next to the bridge. It looked about a third as big as it was on Monday morning.
DOT engineer Steve Prescott said whole trees, some 24 inches in diameter and 35 feet long, were pulled from the pile.
"This is all jammed up with logs and debris," he said. "We've got to get this open, in case we get any more rain. We also need to clean it out so we can inspect the structure for any damage."
It was a complicated operation. Guardrails had to be removed from the side of the bridge so a large excavator could get onto the debris pile in the middle of the river. From its perch on the logs, the excavator reached into the water and pulled up bucket after bucket of branches and limbs.
An excavator and a boat crew work Thursday to remove a massive amount of debris that piled up during Tropical Storm Irene on the upstream side of and underneath the Route 73 bridge over the West Branch of the AuSable River in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
A two-man crew in a boat was also working underneath the bridge, which was choked with debris. The workers would attach one end of a steel chain to the larger logs and other end to the excavator, which would pull them out and add them to the debris pile in the river. From there, a grapple truck parked on the bridge was hauling the logs and limbs into dump trucks and logging trucks. The material was then brought uphill and left in a construction yard across from the Olympic ski jumps.
An initial inspection found no issues with the bridge, Prescott said, "but until we get all the material out that's stuffed up inside the beams, then we'll do a complete inspection. I'm hoping to be out of this site by Saturday. Then we'll go to another site."
About 50 feet downstream from the bridge, a pair of self-described "hippies" were combing through the river's rock and sandbars looking for precious minerals or anything interesting that may have been washed downstream by the flooding. Zoey Otranto and Brad Fitzgerald of Saranac Lake said they had found some Labradorite and a rock that had what looked like flakes of gold on it.
"We're just rock hounds," Otranto said. "We'll collect them, trade them."
Dozens of roads and highways remained closed due to damage from the storm, according to an advisory posted Thursday afternoon on Essex County's website.
In the town of North Elba, which surrounds Lake Placid, Adirondack Loj Road was still closed to all but local traffic because one of its bridges had washed out. The bridge was open to one-way traffic late Wednesday, but the road still remains closed.
In Keene, state Route 73 remains closed south of St. Huberts, cutting off direct access to Keene and Lake Placid from the Adirondack Northway (I-87). State highway officials recommend travelers to Lake Placid from points east get off at Northway exit 37 in Plattsburgh and use state Route 3 and then 86. To points south, drivers can use Exit 31 and go through Elizabethtown and Keene, or Exit 23 at Warrensburg and go through Blue Mountain Lake and Tupper Lake.
Several local roads remain closed. In Keene, these include Gristmill Lane, Hulls Falls Road, Hurricane Road, John's Brook Lane, St. Hubert's Road and Styles Brook Road.
In the town of Jay, state Route 9N remains closed from Route 73 in Keene to Springfield Road in Upper Jay. Other roads closed in Jay include Anthony Road, Jay Mountain Road, Lincoln Hill Lane, Rolling MIll Hill Road, Straight Road, Styles Brook Road. The following roads were open to one-lane traffic only: Bartlett Road, Carey Road, Clark Lane, Green Street, Grove Road, Hazen Road (local traffic only), Hesseltine Road, Nugent Lane and Trumbulls Road.