County orders Downsville covered bridge closed to traffic

Above: The Downsville Covered Bridge, one of three such historic structures in Delaware County, was closed to traffic on Thursday. Photo by Robert Cairns.

The historic Downsville Covered Bridge, built in 1854, has been closed to motor vehicle traffic. 

The Delaware County Department of Public Works, in a news release issued Thursday morning, March 24, said that the bridge would be closed due to “structural concerns” at 10 a.m. that day and would remain closed until the New York State Department of Transportation completes the reconstruction of a nearby bridge on Route 30.

That work, according to the NYSDOT website, is scheduled for completion in July 2017.

DPW Commissioner Wayne Reynolds said that the wooden bridge was closed both in response to current abuse and in anticipation of people attempting to use it as a detour while Route 30 traffic is limited.

Current regulations limit traffic on the bridge to passenger cars only, which are required to drive over it one at a time. Reynolds said that the decision to close the bridge was hastened by a report from Colchester police, who called him on Wednesday, March 23 to say that they saw three vehicles, including a heavy duty pickup truck, on the bridge at the same time.

“It was really getting abused already,” Reynolds said. “We just can't run the risk.”

The detour will be River Road and Route 30. The bridge will remain open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Above: A weathered historic marker denotes the inclusion of the Downsville Covered Bridge on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Robert Cairns.

We found town of Colchester Councilwoman Julie Markert checking out the bridge when we visited early Thursday afternoon. She said that the closure “makes sense.” Her only complaint, she said, is that notice was not given ahead of the closure.

“I think it's a good thing,” she said. “We need to protect the bridge. It's a landmark for our town.”

The bridge was built in 1854 and rehabilitated in 1998. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The press release calls it “an extremely important part of the county's heritage.”

The release goes on to state:“When the magnificent structure was designed and built in 1854, they had no idea what future loads the structure would be expected to withstand. Unlike currently designed structures, it was not designed for impact loads and lane loads that take into account vehicles entering the bridge at speeds above a walk and multiple vehicles on the structure at the same time.”

Traffic on the bridge has long been a touchy subject, and Reynolds admits he would like to see it closed permanently. “If I had my way, it would be closed for preservation purposes, but I didn't get my way,” he said.

He said that the Delaware County Board of Supervisors, at the time of the 1998 reconstruction, insisted that the bridge remain open for traffic.

“We will do our best to keep it open to cars,” he said.

Two other covered bridges, also the subjects of extensive restoration projects, span the west branch of the Delaware River in Delhi and Hamden.