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Advocates say time is now for Albany bridge rehab

A wooden-planked catwalk alongside the Livingston Avenue Bridge
Photographer: Sebastien BARRE
Photo provided to WAMC by Capital District Regional Planning Commission
A wooden-planked catwalk alongside the Livingston Avenue Bridge

Advocates hope a critical crossing over the Hudson River in Albany will receive a needed upgrade after the passage of the bipartisan federal infrastructure law.

The Livingston Avenue railroad bridge that crosses the Hudson River, connecting Albany to Rensselaer, was constructed in 1902. And an upgrade is needed, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Following the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law, Schumer asked Amtrak to consider using some of the $16 billion secured for Amtrak’s Northeast corridor to revitalize the bridge with a new pedestrian crossing.

“If the bridge was to fail, it would severely hamper, if not make impossible, the operation of through passenger trains west and north of Rensselaer, and could also jeopardize millions of dollars annually in commercial and tourist marine traffic north of the bridge including the Erie and Champlain Canals," the Democrat wrote. "Moreover, a new Livingston Avenue Bridge must include a pedestrian component that will link the well-developed walking and biking trails that have been established on both sides of the river.”

During a panel discussion on infrastructure at the Albany International Airport in September, Jane Brophy, a spokesperson for Amtrak, mentioned the aging span.

“Back in your own backyard here, the Livingston Avenue Bridge, which is a 100-plus-year-old bridge that brings trains across the Hudson River. It’s a movable bridge, so that creates challenges in the design going forward. We’re all well aware of the want and desire for pedestrian access over that bridge,” said Brophy.

Transportation planners have wished for a pedestrian component for decades.

“So we’ll go back to about the mid-90s when CDTC was developing its first generation of what’s termed the New Visions Regional Transportation Plan, and as part of that effort there was a look at reinvesting in vital transportation,” said Sandy Misiewicz, Executive Director of the Capital District Transportation Committee. “The timing could be right for a large investment in this particular piece of infrastructure. It certainly remains a high priority to CDTC."

Millions of dollars have been spent to revitalize the waterfronts of Albany and Rensselaer, including recent additions to the Empire State Trail network. But the only pedestrian access between the two cities remains the Dunn Memorial Bridge.

Opened in 1969, the pre-Americans with Disabilities Act structure has a steep walkway along the bridge that carries Routes 9 and 20.

Martin Daley with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission says a multi-modal path over the Livingston Avenue Bridge would be a valuable addition to the Empire State Trail.

“Most of the distance between Albany and Buffalo is off-road, as is significant portion between Albany and New York City, so we’re at this really critical juncture in the network, and the designated crossing for that network is the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which, kind of, is a letdown, right? You take this cross-state network and the link at the very center is broken,” said Daley.

Upgrades to Amtrak’s Northeast corridor were completed in recent years.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama in 2009, federal funding supported the addition of a second track between Albany and Schenectady, a new train station in Schenectady, and a new track and platform at the Albany-Rensselaer station.

Though some funding provided for the design work for a new Livingston Avenue Bridge, there wasn’t enough for a full rehabilitation.

Speaking in September, Amtrak’s Brophy acknowledged the company’s heavy reliance on federal funding and the slow pace of projects. She said rail is not funded in the same way as other transportation projects.

“Part of the problem that we have had as an organization is that we are funded every five years. We don’t have a steady mechanism like the Highway Trust Fund. So we are constantly talking to our legislators about creating some sort of stable funding source for us so that we can manage these billion dollar projects more than one at a time and know that we can move them along every year, so that’s a real challenge,” said Brophy.

In total, Amtrak is set to receive $22 billion from the federal infrastructure law.