New York State Exposed: Deteriorating bridges

Posted at: 05/22/2014 6:37 AM
Updated at: 05/22/2014 7:43 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

You probably drive on one to get to work or maybe the grocery store but do you ever think about the conditions of bridges in our area?

There are approximately 1,600 bridges in the Rochester-Finger Lakes area and experts tell us one out of three is in need of maintenance or repair. That’s a big number and it's likely you cross over one of those bridges on a regular basis.

Transportation experts say not enough money is being spent to fix our deteriorating bridges. The state has a dedicated fund to pay for highway and bridge repairs. There's just one problem, most of that money is paying for other things.

People who live in Macedon are probably used to this inconvenience by now. The Canandaigua Road bridge has been closed for more than three years. The steel has deteriorated and it needs to be replaced.

Fifty miles away on the Lake Ontario State Parkway in Hamlin, the east and westbound bridges are also closed. The DOT shut them down in September after structural problems were discovered during an inspection. Eight months later, work has yet to begin.

“The last I heard is three to five years to either replace or repair, whatever they decide to do." Eric Peters is Hamlin Town Supervisor. “It's very frustrating because it cuts off the northwest corner of our town for travel. We're a very rural community and people commute and they use the parkway."

The state DOT says it’s working on design plans.

“Ultimately you're starting to see the levels of under-investment right now." Richard Perrin is executive director of the Genesee Transportation Council which oversees bridge planning and policy in the Genesee-Finger Lakes region. “Clearly all of this comes down to revenues. It's all a funding issue. If you had unlimited funding we'd keep everything in perfect condition."

But we discovered the state has a dedicated highway and bridge trust fund created in 1991 specifically to pay for bridge and highway repairs. The money comes from your gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees and car rental taxes.

According to a recent report by the state comptroller's office, that fund has $3.8-billions in it but less than a quarter of it is actually being spent on capital construction. Instead, the majority of that money has been diverted to pay off old debts and cover day-to-day operating expenses.

Deputy New York State Comptroller for Budget and Policy Analysis Robert Ward said, “So instead of capital investments in the long term future of our transportation system, we are spending most of those dollars on the past investments and on current operational costs."

Transportation experts say about one out of three of the state's bridges are in need of important maintenance or repairs -- like the bridgeS in Gates that carry I-390 traffic or the I-490 bridge over Marsh Road in Pittsford which is the worst rated in Monroe County.

But why is there continued raiding of the fund? We asked state Senator Joe Robach who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He said, “Some people want it to go technically in that category all for the capital construction part, none of the design or prep work." We asked if that’s what it was designed for. Robach said, “Kind of but at the end of the day, you have to have the project ready to go. It's six of one, half dozen of the other. Then the money would come out of the general fund."

We also wanted answers from the governor's office but were referred to the division of budget. A spokesman says the dedicated fund is only one piece of the funding pie. “That report leaves out other major investments including $465 million through the New York works program and $470 million in annual spending through the CHIPs (Consolidated Highway Improvement Program)."

But Peters says the word dedicated should mean just that. “If there's a dedicated fund, it should be for that and not smoke and mirrors changes just to cover a budget gap."

If there's a specific bridge you want to know about, click here. The state DOT’s bridge data will tell you what the bridge is rated and the date of the last inspection.