SARANAC LAKE - The state Department of Transportation says it plans to repair the pedestrian bridge over LaPan Highway sometime this summer.
"Our hope is to have the bridge back in service by the time school starts (in September)," DOT Region 7 spokesman Michael Flick said this morning.
That news comes less than three weeks after Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Gerald Goldman, village Manager John Sweeney and Police Chief Bruce Nason wrote a letter to acting DOT Region 7 Director Mark Frechette, pressing him for information about DOT's plans for the bridge. In the April 20 letter, Goldman, Sweeney and Nason expressed their concern over "the failure of NYSDOT to recognize and remedy a significant safety hazard affecting the school children attending Saranac Lake Middle School and Petrova Elementary School."
The footbridge has been blocked off since late August, when it was struck by a piece of heavy machinery being pulled behind a dump truck. DOT, which owns the bridge, inspected it after the incident and decided to close it due to potential structural damage.
Since then, pedestrians, including students who had used the bridge to get from the French Hill neighborhood to Petrova Elementary and the middle school, have used a new crosswalk set up at the Dorsey Street intersection to cross the highway, which is part of state Route 3. But some kids don't use the crosswalk and take their chances crossing traffic near the bridge.
"The decision by DOT to close the bridge was the correct one," the letter reads. "However, this closure has resulted in a significant safety hazard as students are now forced to cross this busy highway without any of the traffic controls that normally ensure pedestrian safety.
"We understand that the economic climate is strained and resources scarce, but DOT is putting Saranac Lake students at risk by continuing to ignore this hazard. If no repair or reconstruction of the bridge is being contemplated, then what is the plan? A year is long enough to wait. We have been patient. Please do not ignore this for much longer. It should not take a tragic loss of life to prompt the obvious."
Flick said DOT officials have been working on financing and engineering for the project. He said the agency's program manager wants to sit down with village and school officials sometime in the next few weeks to outline a list of options on the project.
"The engineering study concluded that there's no repair that can be done to that center span that will allow the bridge to be put back in service," Flick said. "We'd be looking at some sort of replacement of that center span. That will be part of the discussion. We have some options, but we want to sit down with them and see what their needs are and how they mesh with what we can do."