IRENE UPDATE: Route 103 bridge separated from land; canal lock holding
Updated 4:21 p.m.
ROTTERDAM JUNCTION State officials said the raging Mohawk River eroded a large gap across the width of the Route 103 bridge at Lock 9, essentially compromising the integrity of the roadway.
State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carol Breen said the Mohawk carved a new channel near the bridge and fear the river's new path could cause similar damage downstream. As a result, she said all of the bridges across the Mohawk were closed for roughly two hours.
"We've only taken the measure of closing them as a safety precaution," she said.
The Rexford, Interstate 890, Freemans and Western Gateway bridges reopened around 4 p.m., according to state police.
Breen said the channel beneath the Route 103 bridge is very large and has scoured large swaths of the soil around the piers and the abuttment attaching the bridge to the road. She said the bridge itself appears to be holding, but the damage to it appears to be serious.
"The support structure is definitely undermined at this point," she said. "The structure does seem to be holding up for now, but we're waiting just in case."
State officials contemplated opening the bridge Wednesday after performing extensive repairs on the structure following last week's massive flood. But they ultimately decided to keep the bridge closed out of concern today's flood would cause additional damage.
Meanwhile, state Canal Corporation authorities are monitoring a truss that supports the moveable dam gates of Lock 9, which adjoins the Route 103 bridge. Spokesman R.W. Groneman said the structure was significantly damaged during the flood last week and workers have warned the mangled steel piece could fall from the lock, but isn't expected to contribute to flooding along the swollen river.
"The Canal Corporation is monitoring the situation," he said. "Any subsequent or additional damage to the moveable dam at lock 9 is not expected to contribute or impact in any way any downstream flooding."
Groneman said the lock dam is holding fine. But he said the lock itself is badly battered.
"What's happening now is exacerbating all the damage," he said.
The flooding has damaged the whole canal system from Waterford to Herkimer. The canal remains closed from Waterford through the locks in western Syracuse.
The closed bridges wrecked havoc on the afternoon traffic. Several city school district buses were turned away from the bridges after the district let out this afternoon; a Mohawk ambulance en route to an accident in Scotia was stopped at the bridge by authorities.
It is unclear when the bridges will reopen, as the level of the Mohawk is expected to remain high throughout the afternoon.
The river began to crest around 3 p.m. The crest is expected to last between six and 12 hours.
Meanwhile, flooding continued in the evacuated hamlet of Rotterdam Junction. McQueen said the river has flooded portions of Route 5S, but was unsure how bad the flooding in the devastated hamlet is at this point.
"Anybody who had flooding this week should be aware ... we're anticipating those same areas to be flooded."
In Rotterdam, a water conservation advisory was issued until further notice. Public Works coordinator Michael Griesemer said town officials are concerned the cresting Mohawk could inundate Rotterdam's well heads on Rice Road, which could mean limit the water supply.
“We don't know how much water is coming near our well heads," he said. "Nobody knows exactly what's going on [with the Mohawk flooding].”