Westchester Dems slam Astorino over aging bridges

The Fulton Avenue Bridge in Mount Vernon was The Fulton Avenue Bridge in Mount Vernon was closed in June after an electrical malfunction. (Sept. 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Betty Ming Liu

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An untold number of aging bridges throughout Westchester County could become "ticking time bombs" if not immediately repaired, three county lawmakers warned Saturday.

Pointing to the sudden closing of the Fulton Avenue Drawbridge and the concrete chunks that have crumbled off the Ashford Avenue Bridge as warnings, the three legislators -- Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), Bill Ryan (D-White Plains) and Mary Jane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson)-- slammed County Executive Rob Astorino for not acting quicker to make improvements.

But Astorino spokeswoman Donna Greene said efforts to repair the bridges are well in hand.

"The need for emergency repairs just became apparent with the state inspection," Greene said in an email. "We will move as quickly as possible on the emergency contract."

Since 2008, the county has spent about $340,000 on engineering services and about $425,000 on repairs, including replacement of the span lock motors, bridge drive motors, leaf reducer shaft, main electrical feeder cable and structural work, according to Astorino's office.

But for the legislators, this is too little too late.

Shimsky predicted that the Mount Vernon bridge, which connects residents to Pelham Manor on the other side of the Hutchinson River, is only the first span that will be closed indefinitely.

The Ashford Avenue Bridge in her home district, which spans Dobbs Ferry and Ardsley over the New York State Thruway, could be the next to go if a bad winter causes further erosion before repairs are completed in 2017. In July, legislators tapped into $1.5 million in reserve funds for emergency repairs to the span, a move that has since become legally contentious; the bridge was closed in June after crumbling concrete damaged cars on the Thruway and briefly closed the bridge.

"It could face an indefinite closure as well," Shimsky said of the Asford Avenue Bridge Saturday. "And we're standing here wondering, all three of us, what other bridges are ticking time bombs in this county?"

The legislators said they have just begun a systematic review of 40 county bridges which the state has identified as being in need of help soon. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 describing a new bridge and 1 for a hazardous bridge, these bridges are all rated below 5, "which means work needs to be done and the failure to do it results in deterioration of the structure," said Ryan.

Williams blasted Astorino for being "derelict" in not moving sooner on saving the Fulton Avenue bridge, which he said is vital to commuters in his city. Losing the bridge will also have a negative economic impact on everyone from entrepreneurs to shoppers and diners, he said.

"The closure of this bridge is very detrimental to the business interests in this community," Williams said.

Local residents who stopped to watch the news conference agreed that since the state Department of Transportation suddenly closed the bridge on Sept. 5, the neighborhood has been thrown into turmoil.

Sylvia Hazlehurst, whose DJH Mechanical construction company is just steps from the bridge, said the closure is already affecting the bottom line on a job in Pelham. "Instead of my guys getting there in 10 minutes, it can take half an hour," she said. "That's four guys in a truck, waiting in traffic, which is costing me a couple of hundred dollars and that's hard for us in this economy."

Victor Allen, a resident, said the closure is also creating chaos as cars come up to the bridge and then struggle to turn away. "There's no sign that says 'detour.' It just says 'closed,'" he said.

The legislators are accusing Astorino, a Republican, of "stalling" the repair work. In 2009, the lawmakers approved the spending of $6 million on repairs to the county-owned bridge. But since then, Astorino has spent only a few hundred thousand dollars to make fixes.

On Sept. 5, the state Department of Transportation closed the bridge indefinitely for emergency repairs after a DOT inspection revealed "severe" deterioration on the bridge's steel beams, Westchester County officials said. The bridge was closed for similar reasons in 2010.

This latest closing is the bridge's second shutdown this year. On June 12, an electrical malfunction left the span stuck at a 15-degree angle, which took it out of commission for mechanical repairs until late July. It was also closed in 2010 for emergency repairs.

Meanwhile, county legislators are feuding with Astorino over how to pay for repairs on the Ashford Avenue Bridge, which is more than half a century old. Ned McCormack, a spokesman for the county executive, has said the lawmakers didn't have the authority to pass the resolution tapping into the county reserves and that Astorino wants to issue a bond to pay for the repairs.

"The county attorney's office told them they couldn't do it, but they went ahead with it anyway," McCormack said.

A report by the county and engineering firm WSP SELLS this year put the price tag for comprehensive repairs to the Ashford Avenue Bridge at about $20 million.

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