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Spending on New York’s Aging Bridges Rises Modestly

Fri August 15, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Richard Richtmyer

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Transportation officials in New York are keeping a closer eye on the condition of the state’s highway bridges a year after a deadly collapse in Minnesota.

They also said they’re increasingly concerned about the so-called “baby boom’’ bridges built during the surge of highway construction after World War II.

“At 50 years, it’s sort of like us,’’ said New York Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn. “They need attention and become high maintenance like we do.’’

About 12 percent of New York’s 17,361 bridges are listed as “structurally deficient’’ — meaning they’re in need of some sort of rehabilitation work or are eligible for replacement.

But that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe. It does mean transportation planners will be looking for significantly more tax money in coming years to pay for maintenance and repairs.

Total spending on bridges during this budget year is planned at $728.2 million, up 4.5 percent from $696.6 million last year, according to the state budget division. That’s paying for construction, engineering, maintenance, inspection and safety assurance.

Spending planned for bridge inspections is up nearly 14 percent at $32.3 million, compared with $28.4 million last year.

For its part, New York City has already been spending heavily on a rehabilitation program for its bridges, including the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, following many years of deferred maintenance, said Ted Timbers, a spokesman of the city’s transportation department said.

About $4 billion has gone into its 787 bridges since 2000, and there’s another $2 billion on the books for the next two years, Timbers said.

After the collapse of a deck truss bridge on I-35W in Minneapolis last August, federal transportation officials ordered each state to inspect its bridges of similar design.

All 49 in New York were deemed safe for travel, though several were flagged for issues such as crumbling concrete, exposed wires or sidewalk obstructions. The worst problem identified — a cracked piece of structural metal on a Hudson Valley highway bridge — wasn’t bad enough to close it during repairs.

There were no calls for emergency spending in New York after the Minneapolis tragedy, but state transportation officials did propose a new bridge preservation program that would have amounted to about $140 million a year.

The money would have come from higher state auto insurance surcharges, which lawmakers ultimately rejected. It was one of several increased fees and taxes they nixed from the governor’s proposed spending plan as they struggled to close a multibillion-dollar budget gap.

Glynn said the bridge preservation proposal wasn’t prompted by the Minneapolis disaster but instead was aimed at setting up a way to pay for a bridge maintenance program that is going to grow increasingly expensive as more bridges pass the 50-year-old mark.

Approximately 3,000 of the state’s bridges will have crossed that threshold over the next 10 years, she said.

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