Predawn work on the northbound lanes of the Twin Bridges quickly went south as the Monday morning commute started.
Steel plates installed to transition traffic from the newly installed bridge deck panels to the old surface weren’t secured properly as workers from Lane Construction were trying to clear the area by 5 a.m. As a result, officials with the state Department of Transportation decided to shut down the north side of the bridge, leaving commuters with long waits and long detours to cross the Mohawk River near the Northway.
“We were all ready to open the bridge to traffic when it became clear we had some concerns about how well the transition plates were in place,” said DOT spokesman Bill Reynolds.
The bridge finally opened to traffic shortly after noon Monday. Then at perhaps the worst possible moment, one of the transition plates began to vibrate, prompting DOT to shut down one of three lanes around 3 p.m., shortly before the evening commute started.
Reynolds said DOT is trying to determine why the transition plates faltered. But he said the faltering plates posed a safety hazard, considering there’s about a two-foot gap between the new deck and the old deck.
“That’s something we need to look into,” he said. “Right now, we’re just focused on making sure it’s secure.”
A total of about 110,000 vehicles cross the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge daily. The northbound closure rerouted traffic to bridges on Route 9 in Halfmoon and Route 32 in Waterford on Monday.
The abrupt closure followed a weekend of backups along the bridge associated with the first part of a $29 million deck replacement project. Over the weekend, only one lane of traffic was open in each direction on the southbound bridge so that workers could begin construction on the northbound bridge.
The work predictably caused delays in the vicinity of the bridge. During peak hours, traffic was backed up for roughly two miles as northbound vehicles slowly crossed over a paved section of the median into the southbound lane to cross the bridge.
The slow traffic pattern will be repeated for the next five weekends as construction advances into the fall. Both sides of the bridge are expected to remain open during the Columbus Day weekend in October in an effort to prevent the snarls associated with holiday travel from being worse than normal.
Monday’s mishap wreaked havoc on unsuspecting motorists and truckers. Vito Ugenti, the service manager for Con-Way Freight in Albany, said the closed bridge created a headache for his company, which hauls to hundreds of customers north of the Mohawk.
“It’s just a mess,” he said.
Ugenti said truck drivers familiar with the area were able to navigate around the closed bridge fairly easily. But that didn’t prevent deliveries from being about an hour behind schedule as a result of the abrupt and unanticipated closure.
“It slowed the whole thing down,” he said.
Michael de la Rocha, the vice president of operations for Sysco in Halfmoon, said the closed bridge meant a lot of tardy workers Monday. He said anyone living south of the bridge ended up at least a half-hour late for work or more.
The closed bridge also meant some of the deliveries coming into the massive food purveyor were waylaid. And the late deliveries had a trickle-down effect on shipments to customers.
“I’m sure it affected a lot of people,” he said. “Even if you have some delays, it shouldn’t be to the degree it was today.”