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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 111: The Great Western Gateway Bridge — Schenectady to Scotia.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1572-1575 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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By Capt. Ernest D. Hendricks, Eastern Division Engineer.

The plan for constructing a new bridge across the Mohawk River between the City of Schenectady and the village of Scotia originated first under the general plan for the Barge Canal improvement, the intention being to construct a bridge to take the place of the bridge known as the Glenville Bridge, which is the present (1925) bridge being used between the City of Schenectady and the Village of Scotia. Under this plan $500,000 was set aside. The necessity for constructing a new bridge was that the distances between the piers of the Glenville Bridge were too narrow for safe navigation and the clearance between the old bridge floor and the water surface was not sufficient. Under the original plan the location of the new bridge was fixed approximately a short distance upstream from the old Glenville Bridge to proceed directly across the river approximately parallel to this bridge.

Before the State Engineer's Department had completed the preparation of plans for the new structure residents of Schenectady conceived the idea of having the State build the new structure half a mile further upstream and substituting for the modest but entirely adequate bridge as contemplated by the State Engineer's Department, an imposing structure consisting of numerous concrete arches. Investigation was made to determine the character of the foundation at the new location. These investigations disclosed the fact that for at least 100 feet below the ground and bed of the river the underlying material was an extremely fine sand of the nature of quicksand.

In 1917, the State Engineer was directed to make plans and specifications for the proposed bridge. In 1919, a bill was again introduced in the Legislature, passed that body and was signed by the Governor. Under this bill, the present structure is (1924) being built. This bill fixed, not only the location of the bridge but its character, and made, subject to the approval of the City of Schenectady, the cost of the structure to be paid as follows: A small portion by the City and County of Schenectady and Village of Scotia; a sum set aside from Barge Canal moneys and an additional appropriation to be raised by the taxation of the State as a whole. The location as fixed by this law stated that the bridge should extend from the junction of State Street and Washington Avenue in the City of Schenectady to a point in Mohawk Avenue in the Village of Scotia and is to extend as a direct continuation of State Street westerly to a point on an island in the Mohawk River, and from that point to extend in a straight line to Mohawk Avenue, 300 feet westerly of Shonowee Avenue and Mohawk Avenue in the Village of Scotia. This location requires a sharp curve in the bridge for if the structure were continued in a straight line from State Street in Schenectady it would never reach the opposite side of the river but would eventually encounter the same banks from which it started some distance west of Schenectady.

Immediately upon the signing of this law by the Governor, the Department of State Engineer and Surveyor made the surveys, prepared the maps and descriptions for obtaining the land necessary to construct the bridge. At the same time, a series of borings were taken throughout the entire length of the bridge and at the location of each pier in order that plans for adequate foundations could be prepared. Based upon this information the first contract was prepared for the approaches to the bridge. This contract was advertised in July, 1919. The contract, however, was not let until February 10, 1920, for $235,000, owing to the fact that the City of Schenectady had not made available its share of the money for the construction of the bridge. The contractor for this work immediately proceeded to work and this contract has been completed for about three years.

The second contract was ready for letting on December 16, 1919. This contract amounting to $962,000 was not let however until August, 1920, for the reason that owing to the great increase in the cost of labor and materials between the time when the first plans and specifications were prepared in 1917 and the letting of the contract in 1920, sufficient money had not been made available by the Legislature and an additional appropriation was necessary. This contract was completed two years ago or at the close of 1922. The bid price for this contract was $962,000. However when the foundations for these piers were uncovered it was found that after driving test piles the material underlying some of the piers was more unstable than was estimated from the borings and it was necessary to increase the cost of this second contract to something over $1,000,000.

Before the third contract for the structure could be let, which was to include the arch ribs, sidewalks and roadway slabs, it was necessary to ask for additional money. This was obtained in 1922 and the third contract was let on July 15, 1922, for $740,000. Owing to the falling prices of labor and materials the third contract was let for considerably less than the Engineer's estimate. The work under this contract is now progressing and will probably be completed about the first of June, 1925.

In the meanwhile the fourth contract has been prepared and is ready to be advertised for paving and lighting the bridge and for the Schenectady and Scotia approaches, it having been impossible to complete the Scotia approach as this approach will cross the main Mohawk Valley turnpike and, until the remainder of the bridge is ready for traffic it is not practicable to block the main east and west highway.

The present structure when completed will be about three-fourths of a mile in length. It will consist of massive abutments on both the Schenectady and Scotia sides of the river with a wide boulevard approach on the Schenectady side and a circle on the Scotia side into which will enter six roadways. The bridge itself consists of twenty-three reinforced concrete spans varying in length from 106 to 122 feet and a main channel span of steel, covered with concrete, of 212 feet. This latter channel span is the only change that has been made in the original law. It was necessary to make the main channel span of lighter construction masonry, owing to the unstable nature of the foundation of the piers.

The main channel span will be the highest point in the bridge and crosses the Barge Canal channel. The bridge floor at this point is over sixty feet above the water surface in the river. The bridge when finally completed will be the most imposing structure in the State crossing the canal. The bridge itself will be of sufficient width, for two interurban trolley tracks with ample width between tracks and curbs for highway traffic, and wide sidewalks. There will be an ornamental balustrade on both sides of the bridge throughout its whole length with adequate lighting facilities. Considerable attention has been given to the aesthetic features so that the structure would be well proportioned architecturally. The strength of the structure will be ample for any possible present loads and probably for any possible highway loads in the distant future. In spite of the treacherous nature of the foundation there is no question in the minds of the engineers who have been responsible for the design and construction of this structure that there will ever be any settlement or failure of these foundations.

This bridge violates three fundamental engineering and economic conditions, namely, it crosses a stream at its greatest width; it is a masonry structure on unstable foundations; it directs an extremely heavy through traffic into the main business street of a large city where already the traffic congestion is intolerable. It will cost at least four times as much as an equally useful and better structure would have cost. The benefits derived are a wide, beautiful and impressive structure to carry the east and west traffic of the Mohawk Turnpike, and a great increase in real estate values in a section of Schenectady where values were decreasing, and the possibility of utilizing the land occupied by two islands in the Mohawk River. Already a large and handsome hotel is being erected at one end of the bridge, while plans are under way for a public park adjacent to the structure.

The total nominal cost of the bridge will be approximately $2,500,000. Of this the City of Schenectady, County of Schenectady and the Village of Scotia have paid $267,000. The remainder will be paid by the State of New York. The principal items in the construction of this bridge, for which payment will be made are as follows:

The actual cost of this bridge will be greatly in excess of $2,500,000 as two of the contractors engaged on this work have lost money.

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