By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
IRVING - The large weight posting and detour signs are hard to miss on Route 20 in Sheridan and this recent change for the Route 5/20 bridge has left residents wondering if it is still safe to travel.
OBSERVER Photo by Matt Panebianco
A weight limit was recently placed on the Route 5/20 bridge in Irving. Construction workers are fixing a steel beam. Once the work is complete the weight limit will be removed.
Thursday, Public Information Officer for the New York State Department of Transportation Susan Surdej reassured the bridge is safe.
"The bridge is absolutely safe. If it was not we would have closed it immediately. It is currently under construction and we decided to post a weight limit while one of the steel members is repaired, which is expected to take about three weeks," she said in a phone interview.
The bridge has been posted with a 20-ton weight limit and the detour takes heavier traffic from Route 20 onto Route 39 through Forestville and Gowanda to Route 62 into North Collins and over Brant-Farnham Road (Route 249) back to Route 20; a trek which adds almost 20 miles onto the trip from Erie to Chautauqua counties or vice versa.
At a recent Hanover Town Board meeting Highway Superintendent Steve D'Angelo said the detour does not go over Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Territory on Route 438 because the Nation charges for permits for trucks to pass through their land.
Residents at the board meeting expressed concerns over the safety of the bridge especially if two 20-ton trucks were to pass over it at the same time.
However, Surdej said the DOT takes this into consideration when posting the weight limit.
"The bridge can accommodate different weight vehicles and it is still safe, we just don't want a concentration of the larger vehicles in that area during the construction. We do take those things into consideration when we post a weight limit," she explained.
Surdej also said this does not put the expected construction of a new bridge behind schedule.
"The construction of the new bridge is still expected for next spring, that is what we are working towards. This does not change the schedule (for that) but the weight limit will be removed after the construction is complete in a couple weeks," Surdej added.
The Route 5/20 bridge is the only bridge over the Cattaraugus Creek stretching from Chautauqua to Erie counties except for the Thruway.
Plans are under way for the replacement of the bridge in sections, with half of the new bridge to be built first on the east side of the current bridge then demolition of the old bridge and construction of the rest of the new bridge. The plan allows for traffic to continue uninterrupted across the old bridge while the first half of the new is being built and then be transferred over to the new bridge when the old one is demolished.
The cost of the project is estimated at $15.7 million from federal and state sources and a bid opening is scheduled for this winter. For more information go to www.nysdot.gov, clicking the projects link at the top and entering PIN 5034.98.