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NYSDOT Commish Defends Bridge-Inspection System

Wed April 05, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Mark Johnson



ALBANY, NY (AP) The commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) on March 6 defended his agency’s system for inspecting more than 19,000 bridges around the state, said two key bridge failures last year were “isolated” incidents.

NYSDOT Commissioner Thomas Madison, testifying at an Assembly hearing, said the department has a “comprehensive” bridge inspection program that meets all requirements of state law and equals or surpasses national bridge inspection standards.

Madison said a “convergence of factors” led to July’s partial collapse of an 82-ft. high ramp that is part of the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Albany. Those factors, including weather, the bridge’s light steel reinforcement and traffic load, made the partial failure “unknowable,” he said. The ramp had been rated in good condition in late 2003.

Madison said the extent of the corrosion that led a deteriorating I-290 overpass in Buffalo to settle in mid-October was misjudged by an inspector.

“I was pleased he was willing to admit mistakes were made,” said Buffalo Democratic Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. “It should have been flagged much earlier. If the system had worked better, it would have been flagged and repairs made much sooner.”

Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari, an Albany-area Democrat, said he remained concerned that some bridge problems around the state were not being caught.

“It is a concern whether all reasonable steps are being taken,” he said. “The jury is still out on that. The policy sounds good, but there may be gaps in how the policy is implemented and the information is evaluated.”

Madison said the department has made changes to its inspection process since the two incidents and will look to improve the program further.

After years of flat spending on transportation, lawmakers and Gov. George Pataki last year included a $38.5 billion, multiyear transportation program in the state budget.

Half of the money will be spent on bridge and road projects outside New York City. The overall funding includes a $2.9-billion transportation bond voters approved in the fall election.

Madison said even with that money, the number of deficient state bridges is likely to rise as many structures age past 50 years. Approximately 28 percent of the state’s bridges are now rated as deficient, down from 38 percent in 1995.