What We Know And Don’t Know About The Bridge

There is a lot that we know, but probably more that we don’t know about what is going on relative to the reconstruction of the Chautauqua Lake Bridge.

We do know now (thanks to reporting in this newspaper) that the DOT is reevaluating the methods for removing existing concrete on the bridge. Their original intent was to put traffic on the north side of the bridge (old westbound lanes) and remove and then replace all of the concrete decking on the southside…the old eastbound lanes.

However, apparently some engineers intervened and determined that doing this could cause “imbalance” in the structure itself and invite the chance of a bridge collapse. Why this issue wasn’t addressed earlier is one of the things we don’t know.

However, from recent observation, it seems that the concrete removal process has been changed. It looks like they are now removing concrete from only the closest-to-shore sections on both sides of the lake, and are pouring some concrete…at least there are ready-mix concrete trucks now being seen on both sides of the bridge.

It is possible (though admittedly an “educated guess”) that some of this recent change in decision-making could be caused by how the original bridge was built. As I recall, from having been around then, the bridge is actually supported by huge “friction piles” that have been driven into the bed of the lake. They are not sitting on bedrock, but are made to safely support the bridge because of their driven depth.

What I also recall is that the tops of these “piles” are below the water level of the lake, and that what you see now as the bridge’s main pillars actually sit on a concrete saddle straddling these piles. (My recollection is that these piles were cut-off below the surface as part of the 3-year delay in construction related to an environmental lawsuit.) Actually, what we see now above the waterline is an improvement in bridge design, at least from an aesthetic/architectural perspective.

Also, as I remember it, the bridge deck was built from both sides toward the middle. Perhaps, in order to maintain balance, that is the way it may need to be removed and replaced in this reconstruction project.

In any event, it makes sense that taking the “balance” of the bridge into consideration is a good decision by the DOT. No one wants an unstable bridge.

All of this has reinforced in my own thinking that because of these added delays – the DOT should look again at building a “Chautauqua Lake Crossing/Connection Path” for bikers and pedestrians and doing it, perhaps, on both sides of the bridge as they reconstruct it. Though such structures usually are not as heavy as those carrying cars and trucks, perhaps having them on both sides could also help with the “balance” issue. (The bikeways/walkways that I have seen in Florida are on both sides of the highway.)

Whatever the chosen design, such “Shared Use Pathways” have been built on other Interstate Highways, including on one over the Hudson River, so why not here?

As to ongoing activities at the bridge, we would all benefit if the DOT were to communicate with us on a regular basis. This would reduce the need to be guessing about things, including when and where traffic delays may occur. For example, a friend told me that recently there was a tremendous back-up when an over-width truck tried to cross the now-restricted lanes at the bridge and had to be stopped and turned around…how did this happen?

Since there are things that we do know and other things we still don’t know–I will try, by personal observation, to comment occasionally on what I see happening with the bridge. This bridge is one of the most important pieces of public infrastructure that we have in Chautauqua County.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.


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