Bridges get old and stiff just like people.
But just like people, a little prevention goes a long way. That’s why the state Department of Transportation will be accepting bids next month for repairs to three major bridges in Montgomery County, according to DOT regional structural engineer Steve Emerich.
The old rail bridge now carrying Route 5S over the Schoharie Creek has been in line for repairs for a while. The large steel structure was built for the weight of steam locomotives back in 1910. For years it carried a bike path, though it served as a detour for Route 5 while the New York State Thruway was routed over the other bridge following the 1987 collapse of the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek. But when Tropical Storm Irene damaged the highway bridge to its immediate south last summer, traffic was diverted onto the old rail bridge again, while the former highway bridge is now reserved for cyclists and walkers.
Starting early next spring, both bridges will be getting some much-needed attention.
Emerich said the damage to the current bike bridge during Irene has been repaired, “but that bridge was down to one alternating lane even before the storm.” One set of bearings will be replaced where the steel structure meets pilings, making the damaged bridge strong enough to support detoured traffic.
Then work will begin on the old rail bridge, and there is a lot to be done.
At the time the bridge was made, steel wasn’t as hard as it is today. As a result the bearings, which ease the natural movement of the bridge as it expands and contracts with heat, are in bad shape. All of them will have to be removed and refurbished, replacing rusty old bolts with new, stronger ones.
Emerich also explained that many of the old foundations are made of a mix of stone masonry and concrete, all of which needs some repair.
At the same time the tandem bridges are under construction, crews will be at work fixing the Route 80 bridge over the Mohawk River between Fort Plain and Nelliston. That structure requires a bit less work, with fewer than a dozen gusset plates, which connect vertical and horizontal beams, in need of repair or replacement.
He was quick to point out that all three of the bridges are currently safe. “A lot of these repairs are redundant,” he said, “A rusty bolt isn’t going to collapse the bridge, but we do want to replace it.”
Next season’s projects are set to extend the life of the structures by 25 years.
DOT Public Information Officer Jim Piccola could not say how much the projects will cost, as the bidding process hasn’t started. He did say a new bridge over the Schoharie Creek would run the state roughly $11 million.
Construction at the Schoharie Creek bridges will begin in April, with Route 5S traffic facing alternating one-way passage across the current bike bridge through October. The Route 80 bridge however, will be closed only in July and August to avoid school traffic.
Though the construction will likely be a large hassle for commuters, Emerich said the work will be worth it for taxpayers in the long run.
“That old rail bridge will still be standing long after I’m dead and gone,” he said.