SCHENECTADY — Two aging pedestrian bridges over Interstate 890 near the General Electric campus will be removed, the city has determined.
The recommendation made by City Council on Monday came after an engineering study determined that $1.6 million in federal grant money, most of which was originally awarded for the bridges' rehabilitation, wasn't going to be nearly enough, given the age and condition of the spans, as well as changes in pedestrian bridge design regulations.
The bridges will probably be removed over the summer, assuming the state Department of Transportation, which has been working with city officials on the issue, accepts the city's recommendation for removal.
"We'll move forward with our (engineering) design report, and the design report is going to say to remove the bridges," City Engineer Chris Wallin said.
The council voted unanimously to adopt the finding by engineering consultant M.J. Engineering of Clifton Park that the two spans should be removed, though a third bridge, which crosses a city street near the entrance to GE, would remain.
The bridges slated for demolition were installed in 1967, when I-890 was new. Not only are they in need of repair, but changes in disabilities-access regulations mean their ramps are too steep and narrow to meet modern codes. Initially, city officials hoped to restore the bridges, but Wallin said that would cost around $3 million — far exceeding the available funding.
With GE having significantly reduced its workforce since 1967, the city maintains the bridges are largely unused. At a meeting earlier this month, some GE employees said they use them as a way to get to the Mohawk-Hudson bike path, but Wallin said GE management doesn't support their continued use, and administrators at Schenectady County Community College see the spans primarily as a liability.
"The bridges are out of compliance with a lot of standards that are current. They do not meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), they do not meet modern clearances. They have a lot of deficiencies," Wallins told the council during a committee meeting last week.
Wallin said, however, that more than 50 emails in support of the bridges were received from GE employees. But of the people who attended the Nov. 8 meeting at SCCC, Wallin said none were city residents.
If the bridges were repaired, Wallin said, no more than 10 years could be added to their life spans, and because of federal funding cuts, annual safety inspections going forward would be at city expense, rather than being paid for with federal funds. The bridges are owned by the city, though the fact that they cross an interstate highway qualified them for federal funding.
Assuming the bridges are removed, the recommended detour for GE employees who want to walk or bicycle to the bike path will include crossing Edison Avenue near the GE entrance, crossing Erie Boulevard at an existing crosswalk that may get a new warning light system, and then using South Church Street, which would also see some improvements, to reach the SCCC parking lot, which can be used to access the bike path.
"We are trying to accommodate those who use them by having the detour in place before we remove the bridges," Wallin said.
The DOT originally awarded $1.1 million in federal funding for the bridges' rehabilitation, but that amount was increased to $1.6 million after officials realized the costs involved and decided that removing the bridges was a more appropriate action.