August 7, 2007

GRAND ISLAND BRIDGES: Structures are in need of repairs

Niagara Gazette

When it comes to the Grand Island bridges, there is more work to be done.

According to the state Thruway Authority, repairs are scheduled on both the North Grand Island and South Grand Island bridges over the next five years. The work will include substructure repairs and deck replacements on all four bridges.

The work is being done in an effort to bring the bridges back into good condition. Grand Island’s aging bridges did not garner good ratings during their last inspections.

According to the Thruway Authority, the South Grand Island bridge northbound received a condition rating of 3.84 out of seven during its last inspection in November 2006. The southbound bridge received a 3.91 rating during the same inspection.

The North Grand Island bridges didn’t score much better. Its northbound bridge got a 3.98 condition rating in a November 2005 inspection; the southbound bridge got a 3.78 rating.

Bridge condition ratings range from one to seven. Both bridges ranked just below the “poor” classification.

Bridge conditions have been on the minds of the public in the wake of Wednesday’s collapse of Minneapolis’s Interstate 35W bridge. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters has now asked states to inspect similar steel deck truss bridges.

“Even though we don’t know what caused this collapse, we want states to immediately and thoroughly examine all similar spans out of an abundance of caution,” Peters said in a press release.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer said similar bridges must be inspected within 30 days. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are 756 steel deck truss bridges, like the Minneapolis and Grand Island bridges, in the United States.

Thruway Authority spokeswoman Betsy L. Graham said the North Grand Island bridges have been under inspection since June. Once that inspection is complete, the South Grand Island bridges will be under scrutiny.

“The (Thruway Authority) follows a very stringent and thorough bridge inspection program, as mandated by federal and state guidelines, and will continue to do so,” Graham said. “At least every two years, every bridge in the state is inspected as part of the bridge inspection program. Additionally, interim inspections take place every year on the Grand Island bridges.”

Graham said work has been completed and scheduled on both sets of bridges to get them in better condition as part of a $62 million project under the authority’s capital plan. So far, $10 million has been spent on general construction and steel repairs on the South Grand Island bridges and $1.4 million has been spent to place sidewalks on the North Grand Island Bridge northbound.

The authority is currently working on a $1.5 million sidewalk rehabilitation project on the South Grant Island Bridge southbound. The work is expected to be done by the end of the year.

More projects are planned for both bridges for at least the next five years. Later this year, a $30 million nighttime deck replacement will begin on the South Grand Island Bridge northbound in conjunction with substructure work for the entire bridge. The project is expected to be completed in late 2009. A deck replacement project is “being slated as priority” in 2012, Graham said, and substructure repairs would likely be done at that time.

When it comes to the future of the bridges, Graham said expansion has been recommended. In a 2004 report by Bergmann Associates, the South Grand Island bridges currently need a third lane in both directions to handle traffic through 2020. Another lane in both directions would need to be added onto that after that year. The report also said a third lane would be needed on the North Grand Island bridges by 2010 to accommodate traffic through 2030.

Graham said the authority estimated it would cost about $500 million to replace all of the Grand Island bridges completely.