Bridges, Tolls And Thompson - August 2007

Rus Thompson, candidate for Erie County Legislature, made the following address to the press on Wednesday, August 29 at the south bridge.
    I am not a bridge expert nor am I here to scare anyone, I am here today to draw attention to areas on these bridges that are of a concern and need to be addressed. Since the bridge collapse in Minnesota, bridge awareness and concern has grown.
   I have become more knowledgeable about bridges in the past month than I ever wanted to. But when people call me to get my opinion about bridge safety and structural stability, I get concerned and always question why they contact me. They say because "You are the only one doing anything about them." How sad they feel they will not get the answers from our elected reps. Not surprising though. Our government is unresponsive and dysfunctional. It is past time that they start listening to us, the people that pay them. I have contacted a few engineers, took pictures and asked them to review and offer an opinion on them.
   The results and opinions are not favorable, and I feel it my responsibility to take this time to point these things out in hopes that The Thruway Authority, our elected representatives and other engineers will act on these faster than they did to the 290/190 over pass. It took over 3 months and people that put their careers on the line to get the attention and the ultimate repairs we see on that bridge, and then, only after it fell 4 inches. The repairs are still a temporary fix, when will the job get done completely?
   These bridges are the lifeline not only to the Grand Island residents, they are the lifeline for the 71,000 people that travel them back and forth to work between Niagara Falls and Buffalo every day.
   Since 1935 we have been paying tolls to cross these bridges, hundred of millions of dollars have been paid and sent to Albany, yet little has come back for maintenance and repairs as we can see. The Thruway Authority claims that all the toll money collected stays here for these bridges. If that is true, why are they in such sad shape? All four bridges are rated below 4...
   Last year alone through the foil request we found out the $10.6 million profits were made, that is over and above the costs of salaries, maintenance and over head of maintaining the tolls. Given that we can safely say the over 100 million has been pocketed over the past two decades. Where is all that money? Is there a dedicated fund set aside for the Grand Island bridges? Or has it been ransacked by our Albany politicians like the dedicated bridge fund that was set up in the early 90's?
   Recent reports state that 750 million annually has been taken from that dedicated account to fund pork and operating budgets while only 20% actually went to bridges. I will be filing a complaint with the New York State Comptrollers office and the Attorney Generals office and asking them for an investigation as to where this money has gone.
   It is the job of our elected representatives and the Thruway Authority to spend our money wisely and prudently, they have failed us over and over. The proof is in these bridges, and their number one priority is the safety and structural stability of our bridges.
   With the hundreds of millions pocketed by the Thruway Authority over the years there should be enough money on hand to build new bridges immediately, right here between these two bridges. There is no reason to raise any taxes or tolls anywhere to fund this. We should be driving on bridges that are rated excellent seeing the amount of money we have paid for them.
   Things need to change and these tolls need to be removed. This time the reasoning has extended to bridge safety. The first concern involves the direct removal of the tolls. Truck traffic has been a concern for years, but they have no choice there is no other route to travel. When the tolls stop trucks they then have to start going again to get up to speed while climbing the steep incline of the bridge. A couple hundred thousand pound truck trying to climb the incline puts an extreme amount of stress and vibration on the bridge.
   Combine that with thousands of cars doing the same thing. It is a recipe for disaster. If the tolls were not there they would be able to travel up and over the bridges with out stopping there by reducing the vibration and stress immensely. The tolls must be removed now to prolong the life of this bridge.
   Another option is to complete the LaSalle Expressway that was started and never completed. WHY? The road to no where or as some call it the road to Sears. Had the LaSalle been completed years ago we would not be here today.
   The other concerns are right here above and behind us.
   Corroded and frozen bearings, sliding plates that have been put in place of bearings extend over the base plate, reducing bearing capacity. These plates and bearings are crucial in the proper operation of the bridges expansion and contraction, if the bridges cannot move as designed it adds stress to areas of the steel bridges that were not designed for it.
   Concrete piers as you see are cracked, concrete spalling is so serious that rebar is exposed. Rust oozing out of the cracks is a telltale sign that the steel underneath is corroding and the structural stability compromised. All of these columns need to be repaired immediately, and structural stability tested.
   What will it take to get their attention? I implore bridge engineers and inspectors to come out and voice their concerns, even if they have to put their jobs and careers on the line. The bridge inspection reports should be posted online. Paint only covers up potential problems yet rust continues to flow out of joints, gusset plates and the bases of the bridges.
   Concrete cracking and falling is all a sign of steel rusting within, expanding and forcing the concrete to crack and break off. These bridges need immediate attention.