Workmen bundled in Carhartt gear, hard hats and orange jackets worked through a cold Thursday morning to remove the old Route 30A bridge in Fonda.
The new bridge running parallel to the old one was recently completed. All that remains is a bit of demolition and the job will be done, much to the relief of State Department of Transportation engineer Gary Dempster.
“We’re coming up on the two-year mark,” he said.
He manages things from a shabby but well-heated office at the base of the bridge across the road from the fairgrounds. The concrete floor is scuffed with work boot mud and desks are covered with huge blueprints and diagrams of the old bridge.
He leaned over them, describing how the structure will have to be disassembled. It’s a basic ladder sort of structure with two heavy steel girders connected by smaller steel beams, all covered with the concrete road surface.
It should be relatively easy to rip down, but it crosses the CSX railroad tracks, so it’s not.
“The unique thing about this project is the trains don’t stop running,” he said. “We’ve had to take some precautions.”
Those precautions turned demolition, not usually considered an exact profession, into a finesse job. Before the workers broke out the jackhammers, the bridge structure had to be jacked up 31 inches off its foundations to make room for a debris shield.
Out Dempster’s window, workers used a crane to move the shield — a large square of steel decking that hangs just below the bridge. He explained the hanging deck catches bits of shattered concrete so they don’t hit any of the 75 to 100 trains that come through every day.
It’s a tenuous enough job that Tioga Construction, the DOT subcontractor responsible for the $5.3 million project, had to submit five separate demolition proposals to an outside engineering firm before getting approval in January.
Tioga foreman Mike LaVenture came in from the cold to check something on the plans.
“The cold slows everything down,” he said.
With the cold and wind Thursday, all his crew could do was move the debris shield a bit to the north to position it under their current work zone. The move itself took quite a bit of time due to the size and weight of the shield. When asked what the next order of business would be, LaVenture laughed, “I’m looking for plane tickets to Florida.”
Dempster said once the concrete is removed the steel girders will be removed by crane. Even at winter’s slow rate, the old bridge will be gone by the end of the month. Then the old abutments will be removed and the work will be done.
Dempster seemed relieved to be talking about planting grass around the site in the spring.
“I hope the village is happy,” he said.
It’s been quite a long haul. A few months into what was originally slated to be a year-and-a-half project, tropical storms Irene and Lee swept through.
“The water was up to here,” he said, motioning to the edge of his desk.
The whole office had to be moved temporarily, the equipment disinfected and the mess of engineering papers sorted, but that wasn’t even the main problem.
Tioga had another longstanding contract with the Canal Corp. After the storms, it was too busy repairing nearby locks to think about a non-emergency project like the Route 30A bridge.
The result was a mess of construction holding up traffic for months. That’s all done now. The work left to be done is mainly out of the traffic flow and by summer grass will grow where backhoes now sit.