SCHOHARIE — Local and federal officials are pushing for $6.25 million in federal funding to replace the Bridge Street bridge over the Schoharie Creek that has been labeled “structurally and functionally obsolete” by the state Department of Transportation.
The funding to replace the nearly 100-year-old bridge was included in the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act that was approved by the House on Thursday and is now headed to the Senate.
Schoharie Commissioner of Public Works Dan Crandell, while at the site of the bridge with other officials on Tuesday, said that the structure is currently safe for travel, but must be addressed as soon as possible.
The bridge is inspected biannually by DOT and local officials are keeping a careful eye on the structure year-round, Crandell said. The bridge connects the village of Schoharie on one side of the creek with the town on the opposite side.
“When this bridge was first built back in the early 1900s, it was state of the art,” Crandell said. “It’s served its useful life.”
A previous bridge running over the creek at the same location collapsed in the 1920s when a truck went through it, according to Crandell. The piers and foundations from either end of that structure were reused when the current truss bridge was installed and opened in 1928.
The bridge has undergone repairs in the past that required the structure to be shut down and traffic to be diverted roughly 14 miles around the site. Aside from the inconvenience, the shutdown created a concern for first responders based in the village trying to reach town residents.
While the bridge was closed, Schoharie Fire Chief Doug Stinson recalled the department staged one of its fire engines on the far bank of the Schoharie Creek and ran a cable from either shore that crew members would use to pull a boat across the waterway to reach the vehicle and quickly respond to any emergency calls.
“A lot of times these types of projects on paper get kind of looked at and tucked away in the backs of people’s minds. They don’t realize the importance and the impact that one bridge or one roadway or one culvert sometimes can have on the ability for us to respond to emergencies, the ability for kids to be picked up from school, the ability for people just to get to work,” Stinson said.
The department also relied on mutual aid agreements with other departments to ensure the safety of residents on the opposite side of the bridge at that time.
“That is the kind of impact that this bridge has on this community. We travel across this bridge several times a month for various emergencies, medical, fire, you name it,” Stinson said. “To go around and count on other departments to respond to this district for every one of those, it would be devastating.”
Repairing the bridge would not be feasible based on its current condition and DOT’s determination is that the existing structure is obsolete. The total cost of replacing the bridge is estimated at approximately $7.8 million, which exceeds the limits for other funding programs, including the $5 million cap through the Bridge NY program through DOT.
“There are no other programs available for funding at this point in time,” Crandell said, highlighting the importance that the federal funding push is successful.
Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, backed the inclusion of the $6.25 million funding request for the bridge replacement in the INVEST in America Act that is aimed at investing in the country’s highways, roads, bridges, transit, rail and water infrastructure.
“We must replace this bridge to protect Schoharie residents,” Delgado said. “We can’t close the bridge and reroute traffic, we need to invest in the bridge.”
“This bridge right here is the fabric that holds the town of Schoharie together,” Assemblyman Chris Tague said, arguing local officials must advocate for the funding request in the weeks ahead. “For people to be able to come to the village and do business and most importantly emergency services and public safety, having a safe bridge here is very important to all of us.”
Delgado could not provide any estimates on how soon the village would receive the funds if the federal funding package is ultimately approved and the project included.
If the funding comes through, Crandell said it would be at least a year after it is received before the project could be sent out to bid while the village prepared final plans and assessments for the approval of DOT and the federal government. Subsequently, construction would likely take about two years.
In addition to addressing safety concerns associated with the existing Bridge Street bridge, the new structure would provide additional improvements through the removal of vehicle height restrictions and the introduction of wider 12-foot travel lanes.
Local officials are hopeful that the current bridge structure can remain in place and open to traffic while the new bridge is installed alongside it to avoid traffic detours. Crandell said it is too early to know if that will be possible.
“Our goal is to try to keep it open,” Crandell said, estimating the bridge carries over 2,000 vehicles each day. “It’s a very important bridge in our county with farm traffic, emergency services, daily commute on school buses, for commuters.”