By CAROLINE MURRAY
On-site work for the construction of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook is under way.
Preparations began Monday for the $16.5 million state-funded project, starting with the demolition of two buildings on Bridge and River streets at the South Side of the city.
The demolition got off to a rough start.
Around noon, the Amsterdam Fire Department responded to a call that the contracting company, D.A. Collins Construction Co., struck a lateral service gas line, causing a leak.
"As soon as we hit it, you could hear it," state Thruway Authority employee Ken Murray said.
Murray said National Grid recently conducted a routine utility check, clearing the contracting company for demolition. All service lines were marked on the pavement with bright yellow paint -- all but one, which the contractors consequently hit.
AFD Battalion Chief Michael Whitty said the department was first to arrive on the scene, and made the call to National Grid. He said the leak was not serious.
Both Murray and Whitty said National Grid was not aware the line was a service to the building, and did not mark it accordingly.
National Grid shut off the gas, and Murray said crews would resume the demolition immediately.
The demo site will soon transform into the "staging area," where Collins workers will begin constructing the bridge piers, Amsterdam community and economic development director Robert von Hasseln said.
Von Hasseln said two support beams will be built in the middle of the Mohawk River first, and then the platform next.
The bridge will take less than two years to complete once the demolition ends at the end of April, he said.
"The estimated time of completion is in the end of fall 2015," von Hasseln said. "It will go up fast."
Originally, von Hasseln said construction was set to begin last fall, but contract issues held them back.
He is confident, however, the prolonged start will not set the completion goal back any further.
The project is funded by the Rebuild and Renew New York Transportation Bond Act of 2005 -- administered through the state's Thruway Authority and Canal Corp.
Recently, von Hasseln said he discovered that London is also constructing a bridge similar to the overlook.
Von Hasseln said when completed, the local bridge will be comparable to the "Walkway Over the Hudson" project in the city of Poughkeepsie, which draws more than 700,000 tourists annually.
"We are less than two years out to what will be a major regional attraction," he said.
In addition to serving as a pedestrian walkway, the structure will be a self-guided museum and garden, with allegorical art sculptures, landscaping, plantings, historical labels and signs.
The signs will not only tell the story of Amsterdam, but the history of the Mohawk Valley.
Artistic elements such as compass-like seals will be plastered across the walkway on benches and planters.
Each seal will have a story icon on it, relating to a piece of history that the visitors can read as they stroll through the gardens.
That includes history of the Mohawk Indians, early settlers, modern immigrants, early industry water power, the Erie Canal and Mohawk River.
"It is a whole experience," von Hasseln said.
When the bridge is completed, two large circular story markers will be placed at either end.
These story markers are not being funded by the state's bond because of the added expense.
Instead, Mayor Ann Thane and von Hasseln are looking for grants to pay for an allegorical statue of the sprit of the Mohawk on the north side, and a steel globe on the south.