The Rail Bridge over Letchworth Park: Should it stay or go... or both?

The Rail Bridge over Letchworth Park: Should it stay or go... or both?

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published January 02, 2013 and can be found here.

The Portageville Bridge over Letchworth State Park looking south from the Middle/Upper Falls Picnic Area. [PHOTO:]

   The Portageville Bridge which carries the Norfolk Southern railroad over the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park was built in 1875 after a fire destroyed the former wooden bridge. The steel frame bridge, which towers over the river gorge and its waterfalls, has become a beloved feature of the park and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. But a     2008 inspection

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by     Modjeski and Masters

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revealed structural deficiencies, and it was determined that the current bridge should either be rehabilitated or replaced. The question is what to do with the old bridge once a new one is built. State officials are now soliciting comments from the public on three different options...

A     Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)

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has already been prepared and construction alternatives for a new bridge have been narrowed down to three.

OPTION 1:    Do nothing...

The Portageville Bridge over Letchworth State Park looking south from the Middle/Upper Falls Picnic Area. [PHOTO: Provided by NYSDOT]

   Since the existing bridge is near the end of its useful life, this is not really an option. But the State requires a "No Action" alternative to serve as sort of a baseline from which to evaluate all other options. Here's a view (shown above) of the existing bridge looking south from the Middle/Upper Falls Picnic Area. And another view (below) looking from Park Road on the west side of the Genesse River...

View of the Portageville Bridge from Park Road on the west side of the Genesse River. [PHOTO: Provided by NYSDOT]

OPTION 2:    Remove the old bridge and build a new one...

Proposed design for new Portageville Bridge (looking south from the Middle/Upper Falls Picnic Area). [RENDERING: Provided by NYSDOT]

   The new bridge would be set on a parallel alignment south of the existing bridge. It would also be of comparable dimensions -- 485 feet long and about 245 feet above the river. But the new bridge would not have any piers set into the river. It would instead be a spandrel-braced arch bridge spanning over the gorge with the supports located on the east and west banks of the river (shown above). The use of an arch bridge could provide a more expansive view of the surrounding landscape.

Here's the view from Park Road again, this time with the new bridge design...

View of the proposed new Portageville Bridge (from Park Road). [RENDERING: Provided by NYSDOT]

OPTION 3:    Keep the old bridge and build a new one next to it...

A third alternative to doing nothing or demolishing the old bridge; keep the old bridge and build a new one next to it. [RENDERING: Provided by NYSDOT]

   This option may seem crazy, but let's consider it for a moment. The following excerpt is taken from the     DEIS

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:    There has historically only been one bridge crossing the Genesee River in this location since 1850. The presence of two bridge structures would, while retaining the original contributing aesthetic resource, result in greater impacts to the visual character of Letchworth State Park than the alternative where the Project results in only one bridge crossing. The presence of two bridges would interfere with sensitive viewer vistas of the Upper and Middle Falls and the Genesee River gorge, as two bridge structures would tend to dominate the views and detract from aesthetics of the natural landscape, including the forested gorge walls and the waterfalls. Moreover, the presence of a second bridge would also interfere with views of the existing bridge, significantly and adversely changing viewers' perceptions of the existing bridge.

Point taken. However, the study also mentions an intriguing idea to convert the old bridge into a pedestrian walkway, and the benefits of doing so:

If ownership of the existing bridge is conveyed to a suitable new owner and the existing bridge is used for pedestrian access, it is anticipated that fewer park patrons may trespass on the new railroad bridge. For alternatives...under which the existing bridge will be removed, the DEIS will evaluate the feasibility of accommodating pedestrians on the new bridge and/or the installation of heightened security measures, such as fencing and automated gates that open when a train approaches to deter Park patrons from trespassing on the new bridge.

The old rail bridge could be converted to a pedestrian bridge similar to this walkway over the Hudson River. [PHOTO: Julian Colton, Wikimedia Commons]

   Donald Pevsner, transportation lawyer and former columnist for Universal Press Syndicate, is     urging the public and law-makers

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to take this option seriously. He points to the successful     Walkway Over the Hudson

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as an example where increased tourism income from that landmark structure is now revitalizing the local economy of Poughkeepsie, NY.

I have to admit, I'm torn. On the one hand I think this 135 year-old engineering marvel should remain for future generations to see. Plus, a new, safe walkway for pedestrians would be really amazing! On the other hand, I'm not so in love with the way the new bridge and the old bridge look together, side by side. What do you all think?

Submit Your Comments:

NYSDOT will select a final alternative based on the findings of the DEIS and public comments. Comments are due Friday, February 1, 2013 at the address below:

Raymond F. Hessinger, P.E.
   Director, Freight & Passenger Rail Bureau
   New York State Department of Transportation
   50 Wolf Road, POD 54
   Albany, New York 12232


[email protected]

A public hearing on the project is also scheduled for January 10 at 6 p.m. at the     Genesee River Restaurant and Reception Center

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in Mount Morris (with a snow date set for 1/17 at the same time and location). Renderings and maps will be displayed and project representatives will be on hand to answer questions before the hearing, beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA