HEUVELTON — Work crews have begun using a crane to lift 12 large steel girders into place on the Eel Weir Bridge over the Oswegatchie River as part of a $1.5 million project to rebuild the structure.
Two years ago the St. Lawrence County Highway Department temporarily closed the 270-foot span and made emergency repairs after a state inspection found the bridge’s infrastructure to be too weak to handle the load of heavy trucks and farm equipment frequently using County Route 4, also known as Eel Weir Road.
Construction of the new bridge, paid for by a $1.5 million state Department of Transportation grant, began about two months ago, according to county Highway Superintendent Donald R. Chambers. He said the cost of the project was significantly reduced from previous estimates that calculated replacing the span at more than $4 million.
Mr. Chambers said the cheaper price tag was achieved after engineers determined they could refurbish and reuse much of the 54-year-old bridge’s original superstructure.
The lead construction company handling the rebuilding project is Friend Commercial Contracting Corp. of North Bangor.
“Much of the substructure could be retained, modified and reused,” Mr. Chambers said. “It came in much lower than originally anticipated.”
In recent weeks contractors have torn out the bridge’s original steel grating and rehabilitated the span’s concrete footing, according to Mr. Chambers. He said this week an industrial crane is being used to affix five truckloads of steel girders.
A total of 12 new girders will be added, to be followed by the installation of steel rebar that eventually will support the new road deck.
“They’ll use a deck finishing machine to finish off the deck and we anticipate the bridge will be operational for traffic by Halloween,” he said.
Once the project is completed, the new Eel Weir Bridge spanning the Oswegatchie will meet all standards for heavy truck traffic, and be able to safely handle the biggest loads allowed under state law, Mr. Chambers said.
“A fully loaded tractor-trailer is about 110,000 pounds,” he said. “This bridge will be able to take that load, and more, legally.”
Michael R. Flick, a spokesman for the state DOT in Watertown, said the Eel Weir Bridge replacement is an example of what is known as a “pass-thru project,” meaning state officials provide funding and planning expertise, but county officials are in charge of project oversight and completion.
Mr. Chambers said there is no local share of the bridge replacement’s cost being picked up by county taxpayers, and any county workers involved on site with the project are reimbursed for their time by the private contractor awarded the job.
He said replacing the Eel Weir Bridge was deemed critical by state and county officials given its proximity to Eel Weir State Park and the heavy usage the span receives from commercial trucks and area farmers.
“A lot of agriculture traffic gets impacted as well,” Mr. Chambers said. “This is a quality project that will serve county residents well for many years.”