Is Cattaraugus bridge jinked?

An excavator places stones at the base of the foundation for the new $2.1 million Tannery Street bridge in Cattaraugus. The foundation of the Cattaraugus County bridge has developed cracks the rocks are designed to halt.

CATTARAUGUS — Is the Tannery Street bridge in Cattaraugus jinxed?

The $2.1 million bridge was recently completed, the area filled with gravel, seeded and the roadway blacktopped.

Then, on Oct. 29, a quarter-inch crack was spotted in the foundation of the structure, Mark Burr, Public Works director of engineering told the Cattaraugus County Legislature’s Public Works Committee.

A second nearby crack across the 34-foot-wide slab was also soon discovered, Burr said. Monitoring devices have been installed on the wall of the 80-foot culvert that carries the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek under Tannery Street.

County Public Works officials then conferred with state Department of Transportation geotechnical engineers, who helped design the structure that contains steps to take some of the force out of the water flowing through the culvert.

The preliminary remediation decision involves placing an additional 300 tons of stone at the bottom of the structure to halt movement, Burr said.

Next, there are plans to try to divert water flowing in the open crack so engineers can examine the crack.

The road will remain closed while the cracks continue to be monitored, Burr told the committee members.

It’s not the first setback for the bridge. In 2016, due to rising costs, the Public Works Committee pulled the plug on plans to replace the bridge, which was built in 1942. The bridge was placed back on the list when plans were approved to bring bridge costs down to $2.1 million.

On July 16, after the existing bridge was demolished and steel forms were in place, ready for concrete to be poured, floodwaters resulting from a micro-storm overflowed a diversion channel and raced through the construction site. The forms were destroyed by rushing water carrying large rocks and other debris.

The flood carried a 250-gallon fuel tank more than 10 miles downstream. It was found a few days later in the main branch of the Cattaraugus.

The forms for the foundation were removed, the diversion channel was restored and new forms were built for the concrete foundation and steps. Construction continued and DPW officials had hoped to open the bridge this month.

The contractor, Edbauer Construction Co. of West Seneca, is just as confused as DPW officials about what happened.

Burr said the failure does not appear to be the fault of the contractor. “They built what we wanted. A large structure built on very unstable soils. Apparently there was something we didn’t account for.”

Burr said the bridge will remain closed “until we figure out about the remediation.” It is expected to remain closed through the winter. No permanent fix will be possible until the cracks stop expanding. The rocks, he said, will help stop the movement.

Burr said the Public Works Department had been planning to replace the bridge for the past 13 years. It took six years and 13 or 14 designs to come up with the foundation system, he said.

The same unstable clay soils that plague the bridge site are common in the area and are responsible for numerous slides along local roads as well as a nearby bridge in the village.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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