DOT officials gave a presentation yesterday at the APA's monthly meeting in Ray Brook.
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Motorists in the Adirondack North Country snapped to attention a couple years ago when the state Department of Transportation demolished the Lake Champlain Bridge – which linked Crown Point, New York with Addison, Vermont.
At the time, inspectors said the structure was in deplorable condition and despite a terrible fiscal outlook, the state launched a lengthy effort to build a new bridge – one officials hope will be open to traffic in September.
The fall of the Lake Champlain Bridge raised awareness across the region about the condition of other bridges.
Appearing before the APA Board of Commissioner’s on Thursday, DOT Structure Engineer Tom Hoffman painted a grim picture of the current state of bridges and culverts inside the park. He also explained to commissioners how his agency inspects and selects the structures in need of immediate attention.
According to Hoffman, bridges in New York state are inspected on a regular basis. Load posted bridges – those with signs indicating a weight limit – are checked out by inspectors annually. The rest are inspected biannually.
DOT utilizes a rating system of 1 to 7 to pinpoint a bridge’s condition – bridges rated a “1” are in critical shape, while those with a “7” are okay, Hoffman says.
Hoffman works in DOT Region 1 – which includes all of Essex County and most of Warren County. He explains that DOT has made positive strides over the last decade, but things are starting to get worse again.
“The worst of the population of bridges are those rated under four,” Hoffman said. “We did make a lot of strides in getting that number down, from 40 in the late 90s to about 20 now. But that’s starting to rise again.”
The number of bridges in disrepair is rising largely because of the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, Hoffman says.
Currently, DOT is planning bridge and culvert work based on a flat $600 million allocation. Hoffman notes that DOT is looking for funding closer to $700 million to meet its goals in the next five years.
But to bring New York’s bridges up to speed, DOT would need about twice as much as it’s seeking, Hoffman adds.
“If you look at what we realistically need to make us have a good state of repair where we’re not taking the shocks off of people’s vehicles and closing bridges – then we’re closer to $1.6 billion,” he said.
Hoffman told commissioners that in-park bridges require about $25 million worth of repairs. In Essex County alone, 46 bridges have been inspected and given “poor” ratings – including a bridge in Lake Luzerne that crosses the Hudson River and a bridge that carries motorists over the North Branch of the Boquet River.
In the Olympic region, Hoffman says two bridges crossing the West Branch of the AuSable River on state Route 73 will need to be replaced within the next five years.
“We’re a little bit worse than most of the upstate regions,” Hoffman said. “But I think they’re coming to join us.”
Jim Bridges – that is his real name – is a regional design engineer for DOT. He says the status of New York’s bridges doesn’t look good – but the problem persists nationwide.
“The revenue for most transportation projects comes from the federal government – between 80 and 90 percent of our projects are funded by the feds,” Bridges said. “That funding is based on the ‘gas tax’ – which hasn’t been touched since the early 90s. And gas use is down. So because that funding is tied directly to the gas tax, the highway trust fund has suffered as well.”
Bridges says New York’s transportation department, like most agencies, is doing the best it can with what it has.
Although yesterday’s presentation focused primarily on bridges and culverts, Hoffman did provide some insight into the status of state highways in the Adirondacks.
He says heavily traveled corridors like state Routes 73 and 86 are stuck in disrepair because DOT is directed its limited funding toward bridges – which Hoffman says present a bigger safety concern than roadways.