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Tuesday, July 21, 2015
State Sen. Rob Ortt pushes for legislation requiring the state to maintain canal lift bridges at a press conference Monday in Knowlesville. To Ortt's left is Orleans County Legislature Chairman David Callard. (PHOTOS COURTESY OR TOM RIVERS / ORLEANSHUB.COM)

By +Scott Leffler

Lockport's Adam Street Bridge sits in a state of disrepair; eternally open, it is a testament to the New York State's abandonment of its duties to maintain the lift bridges across the Erie Canal, according to State Sen. Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and Hawley, R-Batavia, called out the Assembly on Monday, asking that the state be required to keep their responsibilities instead of relying on a loophole which allows them to ignore infrastructure needs as long as there is an "alternate crossing provided."

A small crowd was on hand at the press conference at the Knowlesville lift
bridge as state Sen. Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Steve Hawley, at right, 
called on the Assembly to pass legislation that would maintain the bridge. 
In Lockport, the closest alternate crossing would be the Exchange Street Bridge, just a few hundred yards down the road. The Exchange Street Bridge is slated for repair later this year and will be out of commission for an undetermined amount of time. That would make the alternate routes available the Pine Street Bridge or the Joseph J. Villella Memorial Bridge.

Niagara County is home to four lift bridges: The two previously mentioned in Lockport, one in Gasport and one in Middleport.

"Alternate crossings" are widely available but not always convenient. While Lockport's alternate routes only add a few minutes of commute time, elsewhere, a closed lift bridge could add as much as 40 minutes to the route — a fact well known to farmers and other commercial drivers in Knowlesville where the lift bridge has been reduced to a six-ton weight limit. A few minutes is also a lot longer for an emergency vehicle than a daily commuter.

"Our infrastructure is in a sad, sad state of disrepair," Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said Monday at the Knowlesville press conference. He added that there is money available for maintenance and repair, but that money gets diverted downstate.

The legislation Ortt and Hawley are pushing has already passed the State Senate, where Ortt not only sponsored, but introduced it. It sits idle in the Assembly, though, referred immediately to the Transportation Committee over a month ago.

The legislation strikes the wording, "if  in  the  opinion of the commissioner of transportation, the
public convenience requires such  bridges  to  be  maintained  where  no alternate  crossing  has  been provided," and replaces it with "in a manner so as not to impede commercial motor vehicles as defined in subdivision four-A of section two of the transportation law." It also adds a requirement for a public hearing in the affected community before any bridge can be closed.

The full bill can be viewed here (link).

NOTE: Some details of story courtesy of Tom Rivers,

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