Canal Corp. reports lift bridges in good-working order

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 August 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – An inspection crew from the state Canal Corporation passes under the Hulberton lift bridge this morning and heads east to check the bridge in Holley. The lift bridges, despite being 100 years old, are working well, Canal officials said.

HULBERTON – Parts of the canal system have been battered by floods and the wrath of Mother Nature in recent years. With each storm, the canal has endured, with occasional short-term closures of some sections. This year storms hit the eastern end of the canal and Lockport particularly hard.

“When the storms come through, we’ve been able to turn around and reopen quickly,” said John Joyce, director of special projects for the Canal Corp. “It shows that the canal is in good shape and we have a dedicated crew.”

Joyce and a team of inspectors passed through the canal in Orleans County the past two days, stopping to inspect seven lift bridges in the county and assess the embankments and other infrastructure. They travelled by boat on the Tug Syracuse.

“We don’t find major problems because they are being maintained on a daily basis,” he said today in Hulberton after inspectors completed an assessment of the lift bridge.

Joyce and the inspectors had high praise for the mechanical and electrical systems on the century old lift bridges. One of them in Knowlesville has a weight restriction and is limited to one-lane. The bridges are owned by the state Department of Transportation, but the Canal Corp. operates them and handles a lot of the electrical work and maintenance.

The canal is like a “living museum,” and remains an important source of pride and economic development for the canal communities, Joyce said.

He believes the communities with lift bridges are particularly fortunate to have the iconic structures. There are only 16 of them. They’re between Lockport and Fairport. Orleans has the most of any county.

“For 100-year-old technology they are working great,” Joyce said.

State law requires an annual inspection of the canal each year. For many years the assessment was made by car. But the past three years under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Canal Corp. has traveled the entire 363 miles by boat.

The canal has been in the news for much of the past year, depictied as a drain to the Thruway Authority and a reason to raise tolls.

The Thruway Authority proposed 45 percent toll hikes, but backed off the toll increase. The Canal Corp. however cut 5 percent of its workforce this year.

The canal has been under the Thruway Authority’s budget since 1992. Joyce said the Thruway Authority has proven a good steward of the canal system.

“We have a good working relationship with the Thruway Authority and we want that to continue,” he said.

The Tug Syracuse heads to Holley after an inspection in Hulberton.