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Are the 890 pedestrian bridges a lost cause?

Are the 890 pedestrian bridges a lost cause?

The cost to rehab or replace them far outpaces the money available
Are the 890 pedestrian bridges a lost cause?
The pedestrian walkway over the westbound lane of Interstate 890 near the General Electric plant.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Two pedestrian bridges that span Interstate 890 are in dire need of rehabilitation or replacement, but the cost doesn't match the money available, city and county officials said at a public hearing Thursday night.

The bridges -- and a tunnel -- connect the General Electric campus to Schenectady County Community College and serve as a route for GE workers to access the bike path over their lunch.

But the cost to rehab or replace them far outpaces the money available. However, that amount, about $1.5 million, essentially covers the cost to remove the aging structures and officials pointed to an alternate route that could carry the same traffic over upgraded city streets.

"At the beginning, we thought we'd fix the bridges for you guys, we really did," Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority chairman Ray Gillen said at the meeting, noting that the original thought was to also add a city welcome sign. "Then we started looking at them. They're so old, so deteriorated. The price tag was way more than the million-and-a-half available."

Gillen spoke at the meeting as did City Engineer Christopher Wallin and Daniel Eckert of M.J. Engineering and Land Surveying, the company that worked up the numbers.

Wallin noted receiving concerned emails from users of the bridge. Those who attended the meeting echoed those concerns. All the correspondence will be forwarded to the City Council, which will take up the issue of the bridges later this month.

The cost estimates presented at the meeting were $6 million to completely replace the bridges and about $3 million to rehabilitate them and stretch another 15 to 20 years of life out of them. Each option would also incur yearly maintenance for the completely city-owned structures.

The bridges were both built in 1968 to link General Electric with the city and have deteriorated over the years. Design standards for height, slope and other standards are also out of date.

Removing them would cost about $1.34 million, an amount largely within federal and other funds available. 

A third bridge across Edison Avenue would remain, though GE workers present indicated an improved crosswalk there would be sufficient.

"It's much more feasible for us to focus attention on the one bridge, and the street and the crossings, and put the money there," Wallin said.

Removal would also come with a new route that would take pedestrians and bicyclists from Edison Avenue to Erie Boulevard and then across Erie to Church Street, a route that officials estimate to be 400 feet longer than the bridge route. Though the current bridges are accessed near Schenectady County Community College, college Director of Safety Mike Munger said at the meeting students don't use them.

They also note that the Church Street area is already undergoing improvements as the Mill Lane Artesian District. That makes it easier to put in place the desired improvements, including better sidewalks and a better pedestrian crossing across Erie that would alert drivers to stop.

After hearing the presentation and asking  questions, GE workers present appeared resigned to the possibility that the city would remove the two bridges.

Norm Drapeau has used the bridges for 15 years to get to the bike path on lunchtime running and biking trips.

Afterward, he called it apparent and disappointing that the bridges would be removed.

"The alternate isn't nearly as convenient and it's all surface," Drapeau, of Glenville, said, "so that's going to raise the risk a little bit, raise the potential for accidents a little bit."

He expressed skepticism that improvements to the alternate route would be done by the time the bridges would be removed, saying he would have liked to see actual plans for the alternate route.

Ken Tarullo also uses the bridges over lunch to get to the Stockade and bike path. He said he sees the numbers backing removing it. 

"But if it enhances that Church Street corridor to where it's a much more pedestrian-affected area, it could be useful," Tarullo, of Delmar, said of the alternate route. "It'd be OK for runners; for bikers it might be more of a concern."

The alternate route, however, should be in place first, he said.

"I think they need to make the improvements prior to removing the bridge," Tarullo said.  "That would be the best course of action."

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