Today, Veterans Memorial Bridge, perhaps better known as Chautauqua Lake Bridge, celebrates its pearl anniversary.
Many Chautauqua County residents under the age of 35 have never experienced absurd traffic jams in Bemus Point waiting for the ferry and onerous drives around the lake in the winter when the ferry was not in operation. Those who were alive in pre-bridge times can remember how unpleasant travel was before the bridge was in operation.
And though it is difficult to imagine what travel would be like today without the bridge, there was a significant amount of opposition to the bridge before it was built.
Area fire departments are pictured spraying water over the side of the Veterans Memorial Bridge when the bridge was dedicated on Oct. 30, 1982.
P-J?file photo by Richard Hallberg
In the spring of 1972, after twenty years of discussion on constructing a bridge, contracts were awarded to tear down 70 buildings and relocated 20 families on both sides of the lake to pave the way for the bridge construction.
Indignant at the prospect of being forcefully moved by eminent domain, residents of the county protested the construction of the bridge, citing it would cause more hardships than conveniences.
The construction of the bridge had split the community. On one side were local lawmakers, county officials and some county residents, who pushed for the construction as an economic boom to the area. On the other side were the plaintiffs in a court action against the bridge, including Royal Steubing, JCC biology professor, the Chautauqua County Environmental Defense Council, the Jamestown Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, the Chautauqua Lake Power Boat Club and county residents who were facing eminent domain. This side mainly wanted to ensure that environmental concerns were not swept under the rug in the rush to build the bridge.
The Chautauqua Lake Bridge is 4,359 feet long.
The Bridge has a clearance of 40 feet.
It cost almost $50.3 million to build.
More than 21.3 million pounds of structural steel was used along with 3.8 million pounds of reinforcing steel.
About 9,000 cubic yards of concrete was used for the bridge deck.
Thirty-Six Round Concrete Piles measuring 104 feet by 156 feet were used in the bridge's substructure.
Though a contract was awarded in 1973 to begin constructing the substructure of the bridge, construction was soon halted in April 1974. Construction would not begin again until Feb. 1978.
"However, the controversy was not over," said Charles Bowen, former Post-Journal reporter. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers battled over realigning 500 feet of Bemus Creek. The Fish and Wildlife Service said the environment impact statement did not adequately answer questions about the effect of the bridge project."
About 15 percent of the work was being delayed because of the feud, the DOT reported. That dispute remained unsettled until November 1978 when both sides agreed that further studies will be done during and after the construction.
On April 27, 1979, the first test pilings were replaced for work on the substructure. Finally, more than 10 years after its initial construction, the bridge was completed on Oct. 30, 1982.