The state will probably postpone replacement of the heavily used but deteriorating Malta Avenue bridges over the Northway from 2009 until 2010, Department of Transportation officials said Thursday.
They also said the best alternative during construction will be to close the bridges entirely for four to six months, even though that would force 7,400 vehicles a day to find a detour.
“There’s not a real great way to build this bridge without closing it,” said DOT project manager Craig Blake.
The two spans that carry Malta Avenue across the two directions of the Northway were built in 1962, using a design that officials apparently didn’t realize then would lead over time to deterioration of the concrete under the bridge deck. The state has been monitoring the deterioration since 1994.
“It’s not an emergency, but it’s definitely a priority,” said Joel Willsey, a DOT design engineer.
The new bridges are budgeted at $2.85 million. Willsey said detours will be put in place because building a temporary bridge would add $1 million to the cost and mean a much longer construction schedule.
Blake said the plan is to put the project out to bid in the spring of 2009, with the lead time for ordering steel beams and other materials likely to push construction to 2010.
The later the better, according to two people who use the route regularly for hauling large truckloads of gravel.
Trucks from the Pompa Brothers or Pallette gravel operations in Saratoga Springs will be going that way during construction of the Round Lake bypass, and contractors would rather not see the route closed until the bypass in done in 2009.
“It adds 15 minutes to each trip to go through the city [Saratoga Springs] or the village [Ballston Spa],” said Tim Casey, regional manager for Rifenburg Construction, primary contractor on the bypass.
Ed Pompa of Pompa Brothers sends trucks that way, and he’s also lived all his life on Malta Avenue. He said he’s watched the traffic growth in recent years because of development in Milton and Ballston Spa, and the route’s easy access to Northway Exit 13.
“When I was a kid I’d ride my bike on Malta Avenue,” he said. “I wouldn’t let any kid ride there now.”
Town officials told DOT they’d like more accommodation made for bicycles and pedestrians than the 5-foot shoulders being proposed.
“We’re concerned about safety,” said town Councilwoman Tara Thomas. “It’s heavily used by bicycles right now.”
If Malta Avenue is closed during construction, Thomas said she’d be concerned that Old Post Road not be one of the recommended detours. That town road is already many people’s shortcut to Exit 13.
“I can’t imagine what it would do to residents living on that road,” she said.
Blake and Willsey said the comments from town officials and residents will be considered as the design plans move forward. Blake hopes for a final design concept in March.
The Malta Avenue bridges will be the first replaced, but other bridges over the Northway built around the same time will also be replaced in coming years, Blake said. The East High Street bridge is on the list, he said, and so will the Union Avenue bridge at Exit 14 in Saratoga Springs.
More from The Daily Gazette: