Amid Mess Left by Floods, Cheers Upstate for Grande Dame of Bridges
Erik Jacobs/The New York Times
The Delaware Aqueduct, completed in 1848,
is the country's oldest wire-cable suspension bridge.
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
July 3, 2006
MINISINK FORD, N.Y., July 2 — It has survived the Great Pumpkin Flood of 1903, a fire in the early 1930's and, perhaps most significantly of all, almost 160 years. Last week, not even the floods that tore a wide, costly swath of destruction along the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers could tear down this one simple old thing.
The bridge that spans the Upper Delaware River, connecting Minisink Ford, N.Y., with Lackawaxen, Pa., is not just any bridge. It is the Sullivan County sister of the famed Brooklyn Bridge and was designed by John A. Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge's architect.
The New York Times
Completed in 1848, the Delaware Aqueduct, known commonly as the Roebling Bridge, is the oldest wire-cable suspension bridge in America.
Last week's floods washed away homes, businesses, cars, cows, trees and, tragically, a wide span of Interstate 88 near Binghamton, N.Y., and the two truckers driving along it. A number of bridges in New York and Pennsylvania were destroyed.
But Sunday, John Conway, the Sullivan County historian, walked along the Roebling Bridge's wooden towpath. There had been a rumor on the first day of the floods that the bridge had collapsed, but Mr. Conway did not believe it, even though his own home, about four miles away, had seven feet of water in its basement.
"The bridge has been through a lot," said Mr. Conway, 53, as the muddy waters flowed underneath. During the flooding, the Upper Delaware River rose nearly to the bottom of the span. Sunday, though, instead of carrying debris, the river carried rafters, cheering, in a sign that life had started to return to some normalcy.
"I wouldn't say it's indestructible, but it survived for 160 years," Mr. Conway said.
Erik Jacobs/The New York Times
Rafters were back on the Upper Delaware River underneath it Sunday.
Here in the green hills of upstate New York, the land of the firefly, the deer crossing and the silent night, old bridges are as vital to transportation as the subways are to New York City. Tourist attractions for some, taken for granted by others, last week they served as a kind of test of man versus nature, of how bad a flood can get and how strong a bridge can be.
About 48 bridges under the jurisdiction of New York State's Department of Transportation were damaged, a spokeswoman said. Four were completely washed away. As crews inspected the toll, there was no way to know precisely why some of the bridges failed but others did not, why the waters left this one unscathed and that one a memory.
In Delaware County, six bridges were seriously damaged or destroyed, said Phil Pierce, the county's deputy commissioner of public works. He said the number would increase as officials continued to assess the county's 270 bridges. "Most of the problems we've had relate to the debris that was washed onto the bridges and onto the roads that lead to the bridges, which has prevented us in some cases from getting to the bridge," Mr. Pierce said.
The county's two-lane Peakes Brook Bridge on Route 10 was swept away, cutting off the main artery into the Village of Walton. The village was a scene of soggy misery Sunday. "We're going to change the name to Mudville," said Keath Davis, owner of Breakey Motors, a Ford dealership left with no cars, but a large sinkhole and jagged asphalt in the lot. "A couple of my cars were washed all the way down to the fairgrounds."
With most floodwaters having receded, thousands of residents of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were cleaning mud from their basements and throwing away furniture Sunday. Some were still not permitted back home.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was still determining the damage, but the government did not add any counties to its list of disaster areas eligible for federal aid. So far, eight New York counties and four in Pennsylvania have been declared disaster areas.
On the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the bridges that span the Delaware River appeared to have weathered the storm. All but one of the 20 bridges were open Sunday.
"The water didn't top any of our bridges," said Kelley Heck, a spokeswoman for the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. "It came at about two or three feet of the deck of our lowest-lying bridges, so I guess we can breathe a sigh of relief."
Meanwhile, the Roebling Bridge has been closed to traffic indefinitely until it can be inspected. But pedestrians were allowed on the towpaths that sit above the one-lane road Sunday, and they walked casually onto the bridge, a country version of the Sunday-afternoon strolls people were taking 90 miles away on Mr. Roebling's other, more famous, bridge.
The Roebling Bridge, which was built as an aqueduct for the Delaware and Hudson Canal, was bought by the National Park Service in 1980. The price was $75,000, not that much more than its original cost, $41,750. The Park Service repaired the bridge, reconstructing the roadway and restoring the wrought-iron cables, each containing 2,150 wires.
"The Roebling Bridge is a grand old lady," said Carla Hahn, who works in the Park Service's Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River office. "She's taken a lot of abuse from a lot of floods for a lot of years. She made it through and she's still standing."
Samme Chittum and Fernanda Santos contributed reporting for this article.
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company