Steve Perog’s embattled tenure as highway superintendent ended nearly 10 months ago, but his stormy legacy lives on in a 16-foot-long bridge that could cost the small town nearly $200,000.
Work on the bridge on Ash Lane is nearing completion and is expected to be open for passage soon. First-term Highway Superintendent Bill Reed said crews only need to fill in the footings of the box culvert-type bridge the town is installing over the unnamed tributary of the Normanskill.
“By the end of next week, this thing is going to be open,” he said Friday.
But the cost of the bridge will be felt by the highway department and the town for some time. Reed said contracting the construction of the bridge alone cost roughly $125,000, which doesn’t include what was paid out for engineering services and a six-month rental of temporary bridge that ran the town about $650 per week.
For town officials, the bridge is a sore spot that continues to linger from Perog’s tenure. The bridge blasted through the highway department’s budget, leaving Reed with hardly any funds to repair some of the town’s deteriorating roads.
“It killed my budget this year,” Reed lamented.
Even worse, Ash Lane traverses the tributary to a largely wooded dead end with only two homes. But worst of all, town officials remain certain the bridge project never would have been necessary were it not for Perog’s meddling last year.
Reed said the abutments of the old bridge were holding up perfectly fine. In fact, they were able to carry the weight of the temporary bridge without issue until the project began in late June.
Reed said the wooden decking of the bridge could have been replaced at relatively nominal cost and the structure probably would have lasted for years into the future. Yet once Perog demolished the old bridge, there was no way to install a new one safely without starting from scratch.
And once the town had to start from scratch, the price tag on the bridge went through the roof. Reed said repairing the old bridge didn’t require the type of environmental or engineering review required to install a new one, meaning the town could have likely saved tens of thousands of dollars by evaluating the situation before the demolition began.
But members of the Town Board never had a chance. Just as they began discussing a bond project to replace the aging and increasingly dilapidated structure, Perog abruptly started demolishing it.
Perog claimed he could install a replacement structure — a combination of the old bridge and modern material — far cheaper than it would cost to build or repair the existing one. After demolishing everything but the abutments, he brought in three steel I-beams and several slabs of concrete to create a new deck.
Perog used concrete blocks from the highway department to hold down the otherwise free-standing slabs and to act as a barrier to prevent vehicles from plunging over the side of the bridge, which he estimated to weigh roughly 48 tons. He also tried to grade the approach leading up to the structure, which stood more than a foot over the roadway.
“You look at the bridge and you say it’s overkill,” he told The Daily Gazette in October 2011. “And it is.”
The resulting structure, however, was immediately and almost roundly reviled. The Duanesburg Fire Department and the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corp both sent letters indicating they wouldn’t use the bridge, while Schenectady County officials refused to certify the structure because of the lack of engineering used during its construction.
Board members questioned the liability it posed the town. They also questioned the materials used in construction, some of which came from the demolition of a state-owned bridge nearby.
The town posted a closure sign on Perog’s bridge and urged residents to not drive over it. Then in January, crews dismantled it to make way for the temporary bridge.
“This was a man-made issue,” Reed said. “It’s just a shame.”
Reed now tries to look on the bright side of the debacle and even speculated that Perog probably regrets removing the old one in hindsight. He said the new bridge should last far into the future and could even one day help spur development on the other side.
“Pretty soon, it’ll be all water under the bridge, so to speak,” he said.