The first phase of what will likely be a lengthy project to fix Schenectady's Oak Street Bridge has begun.
AECOM USA is now studying the bridge to see if it can be repaired.
But no actual work will be done until the end of the year, at best. At worst, the city could wind up back at square one, with no plans for the bridge and no money to do any work.
Federal and state funds have been promised for repairs to the closed bridge, which provides a critical link to one isolated neighborhood in Schenectady. But if it can’t be repaired, none of the money can be used on building a new bridge.
So it’s critical that AECOM figure out a way to repair the bridge, city Director of Operations William Winkler said, but he’s not sure they can.
“It’s very hard to say, until they get in there and look,” he said. “You have a lot of issues that have to be evaluated.”
Engineers will take apart pieces of the bridge to determine the load capacity of each piece. Winkler expects them to find “section loss” — corrosion damage — in certain areas.
There’s a very slim chance that the engineers could determine the bridge is safe for vehicular travel, Winkler said.
But even if that were the case, the bridge would still need to remain closed until repairs could be made.
Piers supporting the bridge are badly deteriorated, and the bridge was closed after it failed an inspection last year.
“Hopefully, we end up with conditions for rehabilitation,” Winkler said. “One of the question marks is, we don’t know how good the deck is. That was replaced 30 years ago. Not that that’s new, but decks go longer than 30 years.”
He thinks the engineers will enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to repair a 100-year-old structure.
“You can’t use conventional methods,” he said.
If the bridge can be repaired, Winkler expects a design to be finished by October or November.
The work might have to wait for next spring.
If the bridge needs substantial concrete work, it might be too expensive to do in winter, he said.
“If it was all steel work, for example, we could do that in winter,” he said, adding that he hopes some work will be done “by the end of the year.”
If the bridge must be replaced, though, all bets are off. The replacement would not open to traffic until 2018 or later, he said.
Until it reopens, residents must make a one-mile detour to get out of their neighborhood.
The federal government has promised to pay 80 percent of the repairs, with the state paying 15 percent and the city or CSX paying the remainder.
CSX is responsible for the piers, while the city is responsible for the deck, Winkler said.