Elected officials gathered in Orange County this morning to announce the start of reconstruction of a bridge damaged by Hurricane Irene in August 2011. They say the lengthy process of securing funding to get construction off the ground needs to be streamlined.
Three years after Hurricane Irene hit the Hudson Valley and destroyed the Forge Hill Bridge over Moodna Creek in New Windsor, elected officials stood in front of the site, announcing that bridge construction begins next week. Here’s Republican state Senator Bill Larkin.
“This bridge was put up in 2002, and in 2011 when it went down, there were 11,000 vehicles across this bridge every single day,” Larkin says. “So where do 11,000 vehicles go? They’re going around. It’s taking them 6-7 miles out of their way to get it done.”
He, along with Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis, helped secure the 15 percent state share of the about $2.9 million project. Five percent comes from Orange County and 80 percent from the federal government, from Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for Hurricane Sandy, funding that can also be applied to projects post-Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and the other elected officials praised the cooperation across party lines and different levels of government in bringing the bridge construction to fruition. Maloney says he has worked with a dozen agencies to fight red tape holding up federal investment.
“It’s been 1,093 days,” says Maloney. “I have dealt personally with seven different agencies to get this moving. I personally raised this with the head of the FHA at a hearing in Washington.”
He says he also spoke with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general and ascertained that bridges are built much more quickly in Afghanistan and elsewhere abroad.
“So the fact is we are doing projects like this, under fire, all around the world and yet in our own country, after a disaster, it literally takes the repeated action of a United States congressman working with a county executive and a great state senator and an assemblymen and local elected officials a-thousand days to get a two-lane bridge replaced. That’s completely unacceptable. It should not take this long,” says Maloney. “The federal agencies need to get their act together and get this moving faster. We celebrate a real milestone today. This is a result.”
A result, he says, that should have been reached much sooner.
“It is an occasion to realize that in our country these things take way too long and we need to prioritize our dollars,” says Maloney. “We need to get this bureaucracy streamlined so that we can build bridges again, and not just ones that are destroyed by hurricanes, but by ones that we need to grow our economy.”
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says reconstructing the Forge Hill Bridge will help industrial and commercial businesses and cut down on inconvenience for residents. The span is critical for traveling from Route 94 to Route 9W, both state routes.
“We had an emergency drill yesterday. We spent it at the 9-1-1 center for about 8 hours dealing with the worst possible scenarios that could happen in Orange County,” Neuhaus says. “9W was an incident where they brought up a hypothetical accident coming there and shutting down the road. What do you do now when the other road has no bridge.”
That other road being Forge Hill Road. Democratic Orange County Legislator Chris Eachus represents the Town of New Windsor.
“I know the folks up in the subdivision up here, Butterhill, there,” says Eachus. “You can’t hear them, but they’re just screaming with joy right now.”
Maloney says next on tap is rebuilding Butternut Drive, near the Forge Hill Bridge, which collapsed due to an embankment failure. The Town of New Windsor is working with FEMA for approval of the rebuilding plans before starting the project.
Meanwhile, Eachus says detouring 7-8 miles out of the way has caused headaches.
“Seven, 8 miles for somebody going through a cardiac arrest is a lot of time, Eachus says. “Seven or 8 miles for a house that might have a fire in it is a long, long time.”
He says when Irene damaged the bridge, emergency services were the first to feel the impact.
“And then of course we inconvenienced just numerous, numerous people. 11,000, 12,000 cars through here every day,” says Eachus. “These are lot of commuters to New York City, to the City of Newburgh, across the river to Poughkeepsie and to Beacon, and they’re inconvenienced because they’re headed either north or south, a direction that they don’t particularly want to go right away, and then they run into traffic jams in all of those areas.”
August 26 marks the third anniversary of Irene. Forge Hill Bridge will be expanded from a two-span bridge to a three-span structure and the project is expected to be completed by August 2015.