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New York Commuters Grapple With Summer Bridge Repairs

The Whipple Cast and Wrought Iron Bowstring Truss Bridge. locally known as the Normanskill Farm Bridge, is located near the entrance to Stevens Farm in southwestern Albany, New York, United States. It was built in 1867.

In July, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the availability of $200 million in enhanced assistance for local governments over the next two years to rehabilitate and replace bridges and culverts statewide. The timing is critical.

The Governor's BRIDGE NY initiative announcement followed the late June release of a report by TRIP, a national non-profit transportation research organization, showing that New York's highways and bridges are among the most deteriorated in the nation. Rocky Moretti is TRIP's director of policy and research.   "Eight percent of the state's interstate bridges are in poor condition, but when you look at all bridges in New York State, 12 percent are rated structurally deficient, and then when you start to look upstate you find, in some of the larger urban areas actually, the numbers are somewhat worse."

Bridges affected range from large to small: on Thursday, DOT shut down the far right lane on I-90 eastbound over Broadway in Albany. The closure was to allow for emergency bridge pier repairs.

Thursday night residents in Malta gathered to strategize how they could save the deteriorating Nelson Avenue Extension Bridge from being torn down.

In Columbia County, several bridges that have stood for 50 years or more are slated for repair or replacement. Dean Knox is director of engineering for the county's department of public works.  "We have a couple of bridges closed, due to structural deficiencies and things like that, but they're on very minor low-volume roads around the county and the detours around those bridges are very short so most of the folks are OK with having the dead-end roads by these bridge. The county roads we're concentrating on of course, those roads carry the most traffic, so we're trying to keep those bridges from being load-posted."

Major repairs involving numerous traffic detours are under way to three bridges on the eastern side of the county. "Two of the three bridges were found to be structurally deficient by the New York State Department of Transportation inspection teams over the last couple or three years and we ended up having to put a weight limit on them, down to like 5 tons and 3 tons, I think, was both postings at County Route 7A in Copake and County Route 21 up in North Hillsdale. Simply deterioration to the structural members. Old age. Both of those bridges were approaching 80 years old, built in the 30s, and just time to replace, basically. The structure up on County Route 24 in Red Rock in the town of Canaan is actually another structurally deficient large culvert; however the structure had been flooded several times. It didn't have deep foundation. We decided to replace that at this time with a new bridge, a larger span that fits the stream channel up there, so we think it's going to improve the hydraulic conditions up there, besides widening the shoulders and doing some of the other typical improvements that we do with these newer bridges."

Knox says state funding and federal funds are always welcome, but there are times when local taxpayers have to help with the construction tab. He adds that all new bridges will have deep foundations with piles down to the rock, expected to weather any type of flood.

The Department of Transportation did not return a call for comment, but Moretti says the state is meeting the bridge crisis head-on.  "New York state has started to increase its overall investment in maintaining bridges. And it's absolutely critical that that level of investment continue into the future. So we've seen some positive steps in the last year, but you don't significantly change or improve your bridge conditions in one year. It takes a long term commitment, and it's critical the state maintain that commitment."

In Central New York, the Route 168 bridge in the Herkimer County Town of Stark will close on August 15th for construction of a replacement bridge. Search for links to New York summer bridge repair closings here.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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