ITHACA, N.Y. — One of the drawbacks to a community crisscrossed by so many gorges is that it also needs a lot of bridges in order to keep life’s activities moving along. These bridges don’t maintain themselves. Along with the usual seasonal maintenance, eventually, there comes a time where the bridge is worn out, its materials deteriorated over the decades to the point where it starts to become a risk.

This is where Cornell finds itself with the Dwyer Dam bridge. Most folks recognize this as the bridge over Cascadilla Creek right next to the Hoy Road and Dryden Road intersection, between the stadium and the power plant. It’s a convenient route to bypass busy Collegetown if you’re on way to Cornell’s Central Campus, and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, that route’s going to be closed off while the bridge undergoes reconstruction. Luckily, since this is planned for the summer of 2022, you’ll have plenty of time to plan for it.

According to Site Plan Review documents filed by the university, the bridge deck (on which the road sits, as well as the concrete barriers and sidewalk), railings, and the support beams that underpin the deck would be replaced. The cable net “means restriction system” and an adjacent stairway would also be replaced. The overall width and layout of the bridge will remain the same, one 12-foot lane each way with 5’5″ sidewalks on either side (if you want to be precise, the sidewalks are being widened by an inch). New LED lighting and security cameras would be included in the project. The structural supports (abutments) are actually in pretty good shape given that the bridge is nearly a century old, so the work on those will be minor, mostly improvements to support the new precast concrete deck and approach slabs.

“Recent NYSDOT inspections of the bridge have revealed significant deterioration on the transverse floor beams, which has reduced the load-carrying capacity of the bridge. Future deterioration will require that load restrictions be placed on the bridge,” says Cornell in its application. In other words, it’s not the ends of the bridge one has to worry about, it’s the middle where steel beams cross the width and support the road and passing vehicles above. No one wants a heavy truck causing old steel to buckle, and that’s the risk if it’s not replaced. Adding to the deterioration is that the curbing joints and sidewalks are leaking water, salt and road crud onto the floor beams.

As planned, the detour for the $2.96 million project will result in another 1.1 miles onto your travels, utilizing Campus Road, Judd Falls Road and Dryden Road. A temporary, ADA-compliant pedestrian bridge will be installed for the walkers and bikers just to the north of the existing bridge, and this will result in the loss of four mature trees. A number of utility lines are routed along the underside of the bridge, but only minor repairs are anticipated.

Interestingly, the May to October 2022 construction time frame does pose the possibility of some disruptions around graduation time and August student move-ins, but Cornell has plenty of time to hash out those logistics.

Popli Design Group’s suburban Rochester office is assisting Cornell on the preparation of the traffic and environmental analyses. A construction contractor has not been named in the filing. The project is subject to Planning Board review, though routine rehabilitation is usually a smooth approvals process.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at