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N.Y. Agency Focusing More on Aging Bridges

Mon December 13, 2010 - National Edition
Michael Virtanen - ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) The New York Transportation Department’s $7 billion capital program devotes almost half the funds to fixing some of the state’s 17,400 bridges, whose average age is 46, and the agency said the need is growing.

At an Assembly hearing Tuesday, Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee said “a significant number” of bridges are nearing the end of their service life, though he didn’t say specifically how many. Two small bridges in the Utica area were closed last week.

According to the DOT, almost half of the two-year capital program funds major rehabilitation and replacement work on about 385 state and local bridges, as well as smaller maintenance projects. That shifts more money from 113,000 miles of highways across New York and related paving projects.

Bridges are inspected at least every two years, and DOT won’t leave any open that are found unsafe, Gee said. “If it’s open, we looked, and it’s safe.”

Asked about the three-mile Tappan Zee Bridge, built in 1955 across the lower Hudson River, Gee said a $140 million New York State Thruway Authority project to continue replacing metal plates should help keep it open for 10 to 20 more years.

“We’ve spent more than $500 million dollars keeping it open the last 20 years,” Gee said, including this latest project. Its construction was based on an old technology that doesn’t take into account later code requirements for an earthquake zone, and officials have begun work on an environmental impact statement for a new bridge that could also carry mass transit and would cost an estimated $16 billion, he said.

DOT officials noted financial strains including an estimated $9 billion overall state deficit next year, Congress’ inability recently to finance a long-term transportation bill and debt from previous projects will swallow three-quarters of New York’s dedicated highway and bridge trust fund.

The agency said federal stimulus money gave it “significant” one-time investment in infrastructure, but it required “shovel ready” projects which limited it.