MIDDLEPORT – Middleport’s Main Street lift bridge over the Erie Canal was closed last week for a sandblasting and painting project that is expected to take several weeks.
But the closure won’t disrupt Sunday’s popular “Mr. Ed’s Race,” which is expected to attract more than 500 participants.
Race organizers secured assurances from the state that the bridge will be lowered for strictly pedestrian traffic for the event.
The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic by the New York State Erie Canal Corp., an office of the state’s Thruway Authority.
Middleport Mayor Richard Westcott said it is his understanding that the bridge will be lowered for foot traffic only, due to the volume of people expected to use it for the race. The pedestrian crosswalk is raised and lowered as part of the bridge, necessitating stairs when the bridge is raised.
When the bridge is lifted once again, probably Monday, he noted, pedestrians will still be able to climb the stairs and take the bridge’s crosswalk over the Erie Canal, but the bridge will not be open to vehicles “for probably three to four weeks.”
“It would have been too dangerous for so many people here for the race to climb up and down those stairs,” he said. “I don’t think they (the state) knew how many people come out for this race.”
Westcott, who has spent nearly 50 years with Middleport Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, said the bridge closure will make it “a little slower going north for calls, but we have a mutual aid system, so it shouldn’t slow us down too much.”
He explained, “The firefighters on the north side of the bridge will probably respond right to the scene if we get a call on the north side, while the firefighters on the south side will report to the station to pick up the equipment first. Our neighbors to the north have been notified for mutual aid if a situation arises.”
The detour around the Main Street bridge takes vehicles heading north to Church Street, Watson Avenue and Carmen Road and winds back to the north side of the bridge.
Westcott said it is important for the bridge to permit continued pedestrian traffic to accommodate the students who live north of the bridge and walk to the Royalton-Hartland School District campus near the south side of the bridge.
“The way we understand it, the pedestrians should not be impacted while they are painting the bridge, because it’s only the deck, underneath, and the school kids on the north side would have no other way to walk to school without the bridge,” Westcott said. “If they took the detour, it would be about three miles.”
Officials in the public information office for the canal corporation in Albany were unavailable for comment, but one of the race organizers, Don Heschke, said he had received assurances that the bridge will be made available for the race participants.
Heschke, the owner of Sigma Motors at 3 N. Main St., said the majority of participants would need to cross over the bridge to access the race’s start and finish lines, located in front of his business, as well as to walk back over the bridge for the post-race party at the Middleport Fire Hall at 28 Main St.
“I was told the bridge will be open for us and this has helped us big-time,” he said.
This is the 26th year for the race, which funds scholarships for Royalton-Hartland students – and even Roy-Hart alumni who are current college students – interested in pursuing careers in criminal justice or the medical fields.
Heschke said the group awarded three $750 scholarships last year and five the prior year. This year, his group is striving to award $1,000 scholarships.
“We give the scholarships each year, but we also give money to someone else in the area that needs it each year,” he said. “Last year, we gave money to a family who had been burned out of their home in Middleport.”
He said last year’s race earned $5,000 from sponsors and additional money from the runners’ and walkers’ entry fees.
Heschke said the race originated with a bar called Mr. Ed’s in Middleport more than two decades ago, and while the bar’s name has been changed to Pony’s Irish Pub, the business is still one of the race’s big sponsors.
Middleport Village Clerk Rebecca Schweigert said the village had been notified about a year ago that the bridge would be closed sometime this winter for painting, but did not know the specific date until signs went up about two weeks ago.
“Bridges get closed regularly for maintenance and this is not usually a massive inconvenience – the detour might add three to five minutes,” she said. “This is the second time since I’ve become clerk 15 years ago that the bridge will be closed for an extended time.”