NIAGARA FALLS – The state is planning to either repair or replace a pair of hundred-year-old pedestrian bridges crossed by millions in Niagara Falls State Park every year.
Officials from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Department of Transportation peg the costs in the tens of millions of dollars for the bridges that connect the mainland and Goat Island via Green Island.
The bridges are considered to be in “deficient” condition – though not unsafe – by the state, and underwent repairs in the spring.
They have been closed to trolley traffic since mid-2004 when a chunk of a bridge fell into the river and temporary truss structures were installed over the existing arches. Pedestrians have had an obstructed view of the river rapids and the brink of the falls since then because of what was put in place.
The state parks agency has dedicated $3 million toward the cost of developing bridge designs, Parks Western Regional Director Mark W. Thomas said.
Thomas called the bridges “vital to the full Niagara Falls State Park experience as it is a passageway between Green Island, Goat Island and the mainland and provides a spectacular view of the Falls.”
Officials estimate the total costs to rehabilitate the bridges at between $34.2 million and $50.4 million, while building new bridges is estimated to be between $38.1 million and $62.3 million, according to a June report issued by the DOT.
Those figures include not only construction costs, but also design and inspection work. No funding source has yet been identified.
Designs for the project are expected to be approved in the fall of 2014, with construction beginning in the fall of 2016 and being completed in the fall of 2018.
The major rehabilitation projects on the bridges since they were built in 1901 included work in 1965, 1969 and 1980, according to the DOT report.
In June 2004, a large piece of a concrete arch from the bridge connecting the mainland and Green Island fell into the Niagara River, which led to an emergency inspection and the closure of both bridges, the most recent DOT report said.
A 2005 report by Cannon/FRA Design, cited in the latest report, recommended replacement of both bridges.
Paul Gromosiak, an area historian and author, said he’d like to see the bridges restored, not only because it’s cheaper, but also because it would allow them to be kept as historically accurate as possible.
“These bridges complement the falls by being made of stone primarily on the outside,” Gromosiak said. “The arches, of course, are something that complement and blend with the river very nicely.”
Gromosiak said there’s a time capsule in the cornerstone of the bridge between the mainland and Green Island, a capsule that was placed there 100 years ago this Nov. 22.
He said he’d like to see the capsule rededicated with something new put inside of it.