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"[The fine is] there as an incentive to get the bridge open to traffic," said Thomas Pericak, director of the Buffalo Division of the Thruway Authority.
Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News

Delays shut Grand Island span over 10 hours

Contractor faces $125,000 penalty

News Staff Reporter

When New York Thruway Authority officials talked last month about upcoming work on the South Grand Island Bridge, they had reason to sound confident.

The contractor's pay would be docked hundreds of dollars for each minute past 6 a.m. that the bridge remained closed after overnight construction.

But Wednesday, the northbound span remained closed for more than 10 hours past the 6 a.m. deadline to reopen. The delays meant a $125,000 penalty for contractor American Bridge Co. and a day of headaches for drivers.

"It is a little bit of a learning curve, but we do expect to improve greatly," said Thomas E. Pericak, director of the Buffalo Division of the New York Thruway Authority. "Our hope, again, in the future is that we minimize any impact to the traveling public."

Thruway officials hope to work out the construction kinks over the next few days before the deck replacement work, part of a $48.2 million project, resumes next week on the northbound span. In the meantime, the bridge will close again tonight to allow contractors to install a temporary divider on the southbound span of the South Grand Island Bridge to deter drivers from passing other vehicles when the span is used for one lane of traffic in each direction.

Pericak said a series of unexpected problems early Wednesday caused the delays.

Wednesday was the first time contractors from American Bridge actually started replacing concrete panels on the bridge, he said. Removal of an existing deck panel roughly 24 feet wide and 30 feet long took longer than expected, as did work to remove the existing curb on the road, Pericak said.

Then, at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, a crane broke and had to be replaced by a second crane that was on a barge in the Niagara River, Pericak said.

Pericak said Thruway Authority representatives would meet with the contractor Friday and Monday to review its operations. "They're already assessing their operations and coming up with ways to improve," Pericak said.

The work, slated to continue until November, involves replacing the bridge deck with precast steel and concrete panels. Rather than closing down the entire bridge during the construction, the Thruway Authority planned the work in sections at night, officials said last month.

A representative from American Bridge, of Coraopolis, Pa., declined to comment on the work and said questions should be directed to the Thruway Authority.

American Bridge faces a penalty of $500 per minute for the first 30 minutes past 6 a.m. that the bridge remains closed. After that, the fee increases to $1,000 per minute, but maxes out at $125,000 per day, Pericak said.

The contractor hit the maximum fine at 8:20 a.m., Pericak said.

Pericak said the $125,000 penalty will be assessed against the $48.2 million contract.

"Our hope is that that will be the first and the last," Pericak said. "It's there as an incentive to get the bridge open to traffic."

The bridge is slated to close again tonight as workers install tubular dividers to more clearly mark the two-way traffic on the southbound span, Pericak said.

"We've had many instances of people passing other vehicles," Pericak said. "We've had some close calls."