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The Unity Bridge Of Chautauqua

We are all well aware of the “great divide” that separates northern and southern Chautauqua County — the Chautauqua Ridge that rises inland from the shores of Lake Erie separating the St. Lawrence and Allegheny/Ohio River watersheds.

However, there also used to be an east/west barrier in the county– Chautauqua Lake itself.

The only way to get from one side of the lake to the other, with the exception of the Bemus Point Ferry, was to drive around it. Can you imagine that today? How would people in Bemus Point get to Lakewood for shopping? How would people in Ellery get to North Harmony? Back in the old days, they would have to drive around the lake.

As a veteran, I appreciate it being called the “Chautauqua Lake Veterans Memorial Bridge,” but I think a more precise description would be that it is a “unity” bridge. It has helped bring the county together more than anything in my lifetime.

County government for years had been contemplating the need for a bridge at Bemus, but it was deemed too expensive and impractical. Then came a breakthrough — in the 1960s and 1970s the Southern Tier Expressway started to be built to replace the old two-lane Route 17. The county found a way to suggest to the state that there be a bridge crossing at the Bemus/Stow narrows. An environmental lawsuit to stop it brought things to a halt for about three years, but in 1982 the bridge finally opened. I was a state legislator at the time, and stood on the bridge with the Governor as fire trucks sprayed fountains of water from the new bridge to celebrate its opening.

Now, nearly 40 years later, during the summer you see state DOT trucks repairing the deck of the bridge. This year there was also a multi-week lane closure so that a contractor could remove rust and paint the undercarriage of the bridge.

I, for one, am always pleased to see this kind of maintenance activity going on at the Chautauqua Lake Bridge. It is now a piece of critical transportation infrastructure in the county. Anything that needs to be done to preserve and protect that bridge, should be done.

I will have to give the DOT some credit here. The paved deck of the bridge seems to need a lot of maintenance, and the DOT has found a way to replace sections of the deck as they deteriorate. Every summer we now expect single-lane restrictions as new patches are made on an annual basis. It is obviously better to do this than wait for a major pavement failure which would then require a major fix of some kind.

Though the pavement looks a bit like a patched quilt, it is smooth to drive on and the repairs help maintain the integrity of the bridge.

Admittedly, I have a personal conflict in this whole matter. I live in North Harmony but I cross the bridge nearly every day either on a trip to Jamestown or to a restaurant or the grocery store in Bemus. Though Ellery is still across the lake, I treat Bemus now as a part of Stow — thanks to the bridge.

The “unity bridge” of Chautauqua County — may it stay put and in good repair for many years to come!

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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