SARANAC LAKE - With a smash of its massive bucket, a giant excavator brought down the LaPan Highway footbridge on Friday.
The hulking concrete span crashed to the ground in a cloud of debris less then half an hour after the excavator, operated by state Department of Transportation worker Dustin Fuller, who's from Saranac Lake, went to work on it. A crowd of about 40 people - including DOT and village Department of Public Works employees, village police and a group of reporters - watched from a safe distance as the demolition took place.
"Everything went very well, just the way we wanted it to go," said Rob Haines, DOT's resident engineer for Franklin County.
An excavator operated by state Department of Transportation worker Dustin Fuller tears down the pedestrian bridge over LaPan Highway in Saranac Lake late Friday morning.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The bridge was demolished less than 24 hours after it was hit - for the second time in roughly a year - by a piece of heavy equipment being towed on a trailer.
The boom of a backhoe being hauled behind a CSI Construction rig struck the bridge around 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The collision took out large chunks of concrete from the bottom of each side of the bridge, exposing some of its metal cables. The bridge had been 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 the hit that occurred (Thursday), we determined that the cables that were supporting it had been compromised, and we needed to remove the bridge," Haines said.
LaPan Highway was shut down and traffic detoured onto side streets beginning Thursday night. By Friday morning, a small army of DOT dump trucks, excavators and other equipment had arrived at the site. Truckloads of sand, much of it taken from the village's sand pit, were hauled in and spread under the bridge to protect the pavement when the bridge came down.
Haines said DOT rented the large excavator, used to tear down the bridge, from a company in Watertown. It arrived just after 11 a.m. and went into action shortly thereafter, first pulling the fence off the western side of the bridge and then repeatedly smashing its bucket into the span. By 11:45 a.m., the bridge was down.
The excavator then broke what was left of the bridge into smaller pieces that were hauled to the village's sand pit on flatbed trailers and dump trucks. Haines said the debris will be stored there temporarily; DOT will pick it up and bring it to an approved disposal site at a later date.
The road was cleared and reopened by 3:45 p.m.
"We know it's a holiday weekend, so we wanted to get it open as fast as possible," Haines said.
"I'm glad to see it's down," village Police Chief Bruce Nason said afterward. "I'm glad they were able to move quickly, especially with school opening next week."
The bridge had been used heavily by students to get back and forth between the French Hill neighborhood and Petrova Elementary and the Saranac Lake Middle School. After it was closed to pedestrian use in September 2011, students used a new crosswalk at the Dorsey Street intersection to get across the highway, although some still take their chances crossing traffic near the bridge.
DOT has recently installed pedestrian beacons at the new Dorsey Street crosswalk. They're expected to be operational by the start of the school year. The push-button-activated beacons provide motorists a flashing yellow light indicating that the crosswalk is in use.
Nason said the beacons will help, but he's still concerned about the safety of students and other people trying to cross the road.
"We will definitely be enforcing the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit in this area," he said.
DOT officials have said they plan to replace the bridge's center span with a new truss structure that will be higher, but the timetable for that work is still uncertain.
"The replacement span is being designed as we speak," Haines said. "They have a couple alternatives out there, and we're shooting for this fall or this spring to have it completed."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.