Portageville Bridge due for rebuilding

The 136-year-old Portageville Bridge in Letchworth State Park is likely to be torn down. Efforts to replace the bridge have been in the works for 10 years, and in 2009, structural cracks and broken rivets were discovered. 

 Norfolk Southern, the railroad company that currently owns the bridge, offered to give it to Letchworth State Park but the proposal was rejected due to the state's financial problems. 

According to the Daily News Online, the main incentives for the deconstruction of the historic bridge are economic and progressive in that it will provide for increased opportunity for Marcellus Shale Drilling ("hydrofracking"), and the railway will be used to transport the materials to carry out this process. 

The bridge can be used to transport materials in its current state but according to the Buffalo News, it's inefficient. Freight cars cannot exceed 273,000 pounds, which is below the 286,000-pound average, and speeds must be reduced from 35 mph to 10 mph.  

In October of this year, both Norfolk Southern and the New York State Department of Transportation submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation asking for $17.5 million to build the new bridge. Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific Railroad companies are collectively contributing $1 million to take the bridge to pieces.

The Portageville Bridge Project Scoping Document outlined by the Norfolk Southern Corporation in conjunction with the Department of Transportation states that the main goals of the project would be to "examine various alternatives to increase capacity, remove operational constraints and maintain acceptable levels of safety." 

The Erie Railroad Company built the Portageville Bridge in the summer of 1851 over the south region of Letchworth State Park. At the time it was the tallest bridge in the world, stretching 800 feet across the Upper Falls and standing 234 feet above the river. The bridge burned down 22 years later and was rebuilt in steel over a brief 53 days.

The rebuilding of the bridge will be the last step in Norfolk Southern's process in upgrading the railroad line. The proposed new bridge would be 75 feet south of the original. There is no established timeline for the building of the bridge.

Some say that it would be wrong to tear down such a historic landmark, and although there are "no trespassing" signs, tourists do walk out onto the bridge to get a better view of the gorge. Park officials have suggested using the bridge as a tourist attraction; they claim that it could possibly help the economic state of western New York.

Many view the bridge as a symbol of our industrial past, as something to be appreciated. 

"If we can't appreciate our past, how can we appreciate our future?" asked freshman Tina Howard.

Others think that the old bridge has outlived its famed life, and would be put to better use under new construction. 

"Man-made structures are ephemeral," said geology professor Jeffrey Over.