93 N.Y. Bridges in Bad Shape

Tue January 26, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Ben Dobbin - ASSOCIATED PRESS



ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) Dozens of New York’s bridges have equally poor or even worse “condition ratings” than the Lake Champlain Bridge earned just months before the 80-year-old span was shut down and demolished, the state comptroller said Jan. 12.

Three major bridges — the Tappan Zee in New York City’s northern suburbs, the Peace Bridge linking Buffalo with Canada, and the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge in northern New York — are in urgent need of improvements, Thomas DiNapoli said in a report on highway bridge management and oversight.

“The closing of the Champlain Bridge should serve as a wake-up call for us all,” DiNapoli said.

“We have to start paying much more attention to our infrastructure needs, and the Department of Transportation has to do a better job of making sure defects are quickly and thoroughly addressed. This is about public safety and it’s about economic survival.”

The bridge linking New York and Vermont was closed in October because of severe erosion in its concrete piers and brought down by controlled explosions on Dec. 28. The implosion was the start of a nearly two-year project to replace the bridge, which stood about 100 mi. north of Albany.

Last May, the Department of Transportation gave the bridge a 3.375 condition rating on a 1-to-7 scale. Ratings of 3 or less indicate serious deterioration or a bridge not functioning as originally designed.

DiNapoli said there are 93 bridges in use with condition ratings at or below that 3.375 mark. The Peace Bridge got a 3.3 rating last year.

The Department of Transportation stressed that condition ratings “do not directly link” to the structural safety of a bridge.

“I want to once again assure the traveling public that if a bridge is open in New York state, it is safe for use,” Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee said.

Inspectors are required to assess up to 47 structural elements of a bridge, including 25 components of each span of a bridge, and assign a condition score, said department spokeswoman Deborah Sturm Rausch.

“Ratings below 5 do not mean that a bridge is unsafe for public use, but reflect the need for maintenance or rehabilitation of one or more of the possible 47 elements,” she said.

DiNapoli urged transportation officials to step up the pace in repairing serious defects in highway bridges, especially in the Binghamton and Buffalo regions. Between January 2006 to June 2008, he said auditors found nearly 34 percent of serious highway bridge defects discovered by state inspectors were not handled within deadlines set by the department.

But the Department of Transportation said his report “only addresses the timeliness of data entry into a tracking system,” adding that the vast majority of repairs took place within specified deadlines.

The Peace Bridge Authority has said the span it oversees is in generally good condition and its rating reflects its 80-year-old design rather than its level of safety.

In 2007, the bridge got a 55 percent score out of a possible 55 percent for structural adequacy and safety under the National Bridge Inventory Sufficiency Rating, it said.