The 100-Year Facelift

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Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

Jamestown’s Main Street Bridge started its 100-year facelift 2 years early on Monday, April 2, 2018. The picturesque stone arch bridge over the Chadakoin River was completed to great fanfare in 1920. Its design is one of the oldest in history. Some stone arch bridges built by the Romans and Greeks more than 2,500 years ago are still in use today. One of its advantages is an unusual tolerance for high volume water flows, a distinct asset along the Chadakoin River, originally known as “The Rapids” emptying Chautauqua Lake.

A Good Investment

Jamestown built the Main Street Bridge with the future in mind – a 50-ton capacity – far beyond anything typical in 1920. But 98 years, and an estimated 325 million cars and 12 million trucks have by now taken their toll on the bridge’s double arches and its frequently resurfaced roadbed. Today, a single 18-wheeler can weigh in at a legal maximum of 40 tons and a car at 2 tons. Jamestown has clearly gotten its money’s worth out of its Main Street Bridge. Few investments today come with a century-long guarantee to stand up to such hard use.

A consortium of federal, state, county and city resources have been brought together to rebuild the bridge, with a completion date slated for November of 2018.

High water in the Chadakoin may slow renovation.

Not Too Soon 

By August, 2016, the overall condition had degraded to Poor, with super- and sub-structures rated as Serious (3-4 out of 9) for an overall rating of 39.8 out of 100, as reported by Bridgehunter.com, a catalog of historic and notable bridges of the United States. The structural analysis concluded that the bridge had become: “Basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action.” As early as 2014, loss of some stone facing and weakened grout had been noted, along with pitting and unevenness of the bridge’s 66 ft. deck and 41 ft. roadbed, as well as the street surface between 4th Street and the bridge.

In 2017, Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi announced the 2017 Public Works Improvement Program “Rebuilding Jamestown today…Investing in our future,” signaling more than 100 infrastructure and public facility improvement projects. These began during the 2017 construction season as part of a multi-year planning process. Under the 12 Major Construction Projects heading is the South Main Street Bridge (assigned primarily to NY State and Chautauqua County).

Game Plan

Teresi said when announcing the plan, however, that the work would proceed only , “…as has been the case in recent years…depending on funding availability and the cooperation of the weather.” The work relies largely on “Jamestown’s State CHIPS allocation and the PAVE NY program, along with federal dollars obtained by the City’s Department of Development.”

“The mayor is right about the weather,” said Alexey Brumagin, bridge engineer at the Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities. At the present time, Chautauqua Lake is 18 inches high due to high winter runoff. This temporarily prevents lowering the Chadakoin River enough to allow important parts of the restoration work to proceed. This could delay completion past the end of the 2018 construction season.

“The county is very fortunate to have the right people on this job,” Brumagin said. “Union Concrete & Construction Corporation of West Seneca (UCC) is the same company that built the Washington Street Bridge for Jamestown. They are working hard now on the Main Street Bridge.”

Another high water view.

Accommodating Traffic

The current 12-foot clearance under the Erie Railroad Bridge at the northern end of the Main Street Bridge is too low for the average 18-wheeler’s height of 13’6”. This has always required all semi-truck shipping to and from Blackstone to come and go from the south, a route now impossible due to the bridge closure.

To help keep Blackstone’s operation, the roadway under the railroad bridge was milled down deep enough to permit trucks temporary access to Blackstone from the north. Based on the success of this change, consideration is now being given to making it a permanent improvement. This would decrease the need for trucks using the northern route to take longer routes around community roads to bypass the low railroad bridge.

While vehicular traffic is being detoured to existing streets and bridges, South Main Street pedestrian traffic has now been given a new path by way of the Greater Jamestown Riverwalk – Pedestrian Bridges Construction project. One of the two bridges will span the north and south shores of the Greater Jamestown Riverwalk and the other will connect Panzarella Park to Riverwalk’s north shore.

High Priority

Mayor Teresi added that “…the rebuilding and maintenance of our streets, infrastructure and public facilities are among the most basic and necessary functions of local government.”

The estimated cost of the project will top $4.2 million, with federal funds covering 80 percent of the project and New York State covering 75 percent of the remaining cost, leaving slightly more than $200,000 of the total cost for Jamestown to provide. According to the Chautauqua Department of Public Facilities, nearly 1/3 of the county’s approximately 310 bridges are classified as safe but “structurally deficient.” The South Main Street Bridge project is part of Chautauqua County’s ongoing, overall infrastructure maintenance program.

Slower Business?

A brief survey of businesses along South Main Street to see if the decreased traffic has changed patron traffic encountered a number of dark stores, suggesting a significant local business impact. The recent designation of the Arcade Building as a historic site is hoped to enhance local commerce once the Main Street Bridge Reconstruction project is complete.

The Main Street Bridge has proven to be a hard working part of Jamestown’s infrastructure over the past century, as deserving of the community’s appreciation as of its restoration. The bridge builders promise the current work is planned to be a long-term solution looking forward to Jamestown’s future growth.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.