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Sch'dy, Amtrak inching toward bridge repair project

Sch'dy, Amtrak inching toward bridge repair project

Schenectady and Amtrak are making slow progress on plans to repair the Oak Street Bridge.
Sch'dy, Amtrak inching toward bridge repair project
The Oak Street Bridge in Schenectady, closed since 2013, is seen from railroad tracks.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The city of Schenectady and Amtrak are making slow progress on plans to repair the Oak Street Bridge, which has been closed since 2013.

The city sent its design firm’s plans for the bridge to Amtrak for review, a service the railway company charges for. As a result, the city sent Amtrak a check for $98,360, an amount that is reimbursable. The City Council approved that payment at its meeting on Monday.

With the payment out of the way, and a legal agreement signed between the city and Amtrak, the largest bureaucratic hurdles are believed to be cleared before construction can start on the project.

“It’s moving, it’s just a slow process,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy.

The bridge runs over railroad tracks and a small creek, and serves as a connector between Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant and Bellevue neighborhoods. It was built in 1937, but has been blocked off since April 2013, when the city ordered it closed because of structural concerns.

Since then, the rehab project has been in limbo as city officials go back and forth with Amtrak officials on the particulars. At one point, officials thought construction might be completed by the summer of 2016.

“We’re moving ahead and staying away from putting any timeline on it because it’s moved slower than any of us would’ve liked or would’ve thought,” McCarthy said.
The total project cost is pegged around $1.7 million, said Chris Wallin, the city’s engineer. Federal funding will cover 80 percent of the total cost, another 15 percent will come from the state, and the city will be responsible for paying 5 percent of the tab.

AECOM is the architecture firm helping the city with design concepts for the bridge repairs. Wallin said the plans are around 90 percent complete; however, Amtrak reviews the plans incrementally.

The railway company will review the plans that show 30 percent of the project, then provide feedback. They’ll do the same thing with a concept showing 70 percent of the project, and then again with the full concept, Wallin said.

“We decided in the name of time to proceed with designs,” he said. “We didn’t wait for them to do [the 30 percent plan], and then progress to 70. Once we get feedback, we’ll flip it around and send the next set of plans.”

Once Amtrak approves the design components, the state Department of Transportation will sign off on it, and then the city is allowed to issue a call for bids for construction.

However, the timeline on construction would still be fuzzy, Wallin said, since workers needing to get near the track will need to seek Amtrak’s approval.

The process has been frustrating for area residents, because they view the Oak Street Bridge as a critical piece of infrastructure, Wallin said. But to Amtrak, it’s one bridge in Schenectady that the national entity has to handle, he said.

In addition, much of the process is out of the city’s hands, he said.

“It’s a slow process and it’s frustrating,” Wallin said. “It’s like you want to go faster, but you don’t have a gas pedal.”

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