N  I  A  G  A  R  A      G  A  Z  E  T  T  E    niagara-gazette.com

April 28, 2010

Construction delays trigger major traffic gridlock

BY Eric Duvall Niagara Gazette

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Drivers whose workday commutes take them over Grand Island got it both coming and going Wednesday and the company responsible will be paying a pretty penny as a result.

Delays of an hour or longer frustrated motorists headed over the south Grand Island bridges during both the morning and afternoon rush hour commutes. Work crews have been shutting down the southbound span at nights while working to replace the bridge deck. That work is supposed to conclude in time to reopen the bridge at 6 a.m.

Nearly 12 hours past that deadline, workers finally reopened the span after a series of frustrating — and costly — setbacks.

A $125,000 fine will be levied against the contractor, American Bridge. According to its contract, the company has to pay $500 for every minute the bridge isn’t open after 6 a.m. for the first 30 minutes and $1,000 for every minute thereafter. The contractor reached the maximum fine allowable under the contract, which is set at the $125,000 figure, according to Tom Pericak, division director for the New York State Thruway Authority’s Buffalo office.

Pericak said crews were actually removing a section of the deck for the first time Wednesday morning and that process took several hours longer than anticipated. He said it was all downhill after that.

“From there, it was Murphy’s Law,” he said. “Everything that could go wrong, did.”

A crane broke, along with other equipment failures, he said. Traffic was backed up for almost two miles on the Youngmann Expressway westbound approaching the I-190 interchange. Traffic approaching the bridges on both the northbound and southbound sections of the I-190 was severely delayed throughout the day with multiple lanes funneling down to a single one headed across the lone available bridge.

“We expected a learning curve,” Pericak said. “We thought we were a little higher up on that learning curve.”

He stressed that American Bridge is an experienced company that has done this kind of work before. Company leaders will sit down with Thruway Authority project managers to review what caused the massive work delays and how to avoid them when deck replacement resumes next week.

“We will figure out how to do this much more efficiently,” he said.

In the meantime, the bridge will be shut down at night for work besides deck replacement. A barrier will be installed between the two lanes on the southbound bridge to prevent motorists who might not realize the bridge is serving two-way traffic from attempting to pass.