SARANAC LAKE The state Department of Transportation plans to tear down the pedestrian bridge over the LaPan Highway section of state Route 3 on Friday. The decision was made after the bridge was hit Thursday by a piece of heavy equipment being towed on a trailer - the same thing that happened a year ago.
"The footbridge will be torn down tomorrow," village police Chief Bruce Nason told the Enterprise late Thursday. "The center span will be taken out."
The boom of a backhoe hit the bridge around 3 p.m. Thursday, and the road was closed temporarily until a DOT bridge engineer, who traveled to Saranac Lake from Watertown, could inspect it. Traffic is being detoured to Main Street, Lake Street, Petrova Avenue and Canaras Avenue. Truck traffic is being rerouted down Edgewood Avenue, Ampersand Avenue and Broadway.
Saranac Lake village police Chief Bruce Nason, right, watches as state Department of Transportation workers clean up pieces of concrete that fell from the footbridge over LaPan Highway Thursday after it was struck by the boom of a backhoe, which is parked down the street.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Nason said the road will remain closed until DOT crews have removed the bridge.
"They hope to have it done by tomorrow afternoon," he said. "I encouraged them that we need to have the road open for next week because school is starting."
DOT officials have said they plan to replace the bridge's center span with a new truss structure sometime this fall. That means the walkways that lead to both sides of the bridge will remain in place, with nothing connecting them, for at least several weeks. Nason said police will take further steps to secure the gates that were put up last year to prevent people from accessing the damaged bridge.
The backhoe that struck the bridge Thursday afternoon was being hauled behind an eastbound CSI Construction rig. The collision took out large chunks of concrete from the bottom of each side of the bridge, exposing some of its steel beams and rebar.
The bridge was hit in the same spot on Aug. 24, 2011, by the boom of an excavator being pulled on a trailer by a Kentile Excavating Inc. dump truck.
After that incident, DOT restricted pedestrian traffic on the bridge, which is used heavily during the school year by students to get back and forth between the French Hill neighborhood and Petrova Elementary and the Saranac Lake Middle School. Students last school year used a new crosswalk at the Dorsey Street intersection to get across the highway, but some kids don't use the crosswalk and take their chances crossing traffic near the bridge. That sparked concern among school, village and police officials, who pressed the DOT to repair or replace the bridge as soon as possible.
In May, DOT officials said they hoped to have the bridge back in service before school starts in September. In July, DOT said the project had been pushed back to the fall, when it plans to replace the middle portion of the bridge with a truss structure.
"It will be nice when they replace it," Nason said earlier Thursday. "The replacement bridge is supposed to be higher. That's the plan."
Nason said "coincidence" is the only possible explanation as to why the bridge has been hit and damaged twice in a year's time. There are no signs indicating the height of the bridge to approaching traffic, but Nason said they're not required.
"My understanding of DOT regulations is, as long as it's the required height, it doesn't have to have a sign," he said. "It's only if it's below the required or accepted height. Both times that it was struck was because somebody had a backhoe or an excavator, something with a boom, and the boom was too high. It wasn't because of the vehicle they were using; it was the equipment on the vehicle."
Classes begin Wednesday in Saranac Lake. Petrova Middle School Principal Patricia Kenyon stopped by the bridge Thursday afternoon and talked to Nason as DOT crews cleaned up debris in the road.
"I would really like the bridge fixed for the safety of our children," Kenyon told the Enterprise.
DOT is taking steps to improve pedestrian safety at the new Dorsey Street-LaPan Highway crosswalk. On Wednesday, the department issued a press release announcing the installation of pedestrian beacons at the intersection.
"The beacons are push-button activated and provide motorists a flashing yellow light indicating that the crosswalk is in use as well as a sign designating the crosswalk location," the release states. "It is expected that the pedestrian beacon will be operational prior to the start of the school year.
"Existing traffic signal and pedestrian crossings located at state Route 3 and Canaras Avenue, and state Route 3 (River Street) and Main Street will remain fully operational with pedestrian signal face boxes and countdown timers.
"As a reminder with the coming start of the school year, state law requires motorists to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk."
Kenyon said teachers and school officials will continue to urge students to cross at one of the crosswalks. She added that the district is planning to install a pair of signs along the highway that display a vehicle's speed and the speed limit, which is 30 mph. The signs were purchased using a federal Safe Routes to School grant.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.