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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

A bridge too far — or just too costly?

An aerial image taken July 23, 2011 of

An aerial image taken July 23, 2011 of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, a links-style golf club in Southampton which will host the 2018 U.S. Open. Photo Credit: FlyingDogPhotos.com / Kevin P Coughlin

Call it a bridge too far, or perhaps or just too costly.

As pros this afternoon play the final round of PGA Golf Tournament, this year’s last major championship, Suffolk taxpayers can think ahead to next June when the U.S. Open returns for a fourth time in the modern era to the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton.

And for next 11 months they can mull having to foot the bill to erect a $1.5 million pedestrian bridge across County Road 39 whose useful life will last as long as the weeklong event.

The 8-foot-wide, 210-foot-long span will carry as many as 250,000 golf fans to the hallowed course after they are bused in from Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and other sites.

What makes the price tag head-scratching is how it has escalated.

When the Open first was held at Shinnecock in 1986, the bridge cost $80,000. When the event returned in 1995, it cost $200,000; the price was no different when the tournament returned in 2004.

“Oh my lord,” said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) when told of the increase.

“To me, it’s incredible that there has been that kind of increase in cost. Spending $200,000 on a small bridge might be reasonable,” he said, but “looking at a multiplier of six or seven times just doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know there’s an economic benefit to holding the golf tournament here,” said county Legis. Robert Trotta (R- Fort Salonga). “But I find it absurd we’re paying over a million dollars more.”

The increase comes even as the county plans to relocate and use part of the bridge used at the 2005 Open. That portion now spans water between the sixth and seventh holes at Suffolk’s Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead.

Gil Anderson, county public works commissioner, said the cost has increased in part because the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has made its standards more stringent. For instance, the group now requires stiffeners and other steel reinforcements for the bridge.

Anderson said other added costs include site work needed to close off a turning lane at Tuckahoe Lane where the southerly bridge footing is located. Officials say that work is needed because County Road 39 was widened since the last tournament, so the bridge footing is now on the road instead of the road’s shoulder.

Anderson said the county is looking to rein in costs where it can. His department for example, is doing the design in-house rather than using an outside consultant, which would cost about $150,000. The county expects to begin soliciting bids for construction in October.

Despite the cost, aides to County Executive Steve Bellone say the economic benefit of holding the open at Shinnecock offsets any county costs.

Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, cited a study by the Long Island Association that said the USGA spent $6.7 million at the last U.S. Open held on Long Island in 2009 at Bethpage State Park.

Elan said vendors under contract at the event spent $17.8 million. Fans spent $15.1 million on merchandise and food and beverages, as well as $154.5 million locally, generating $16.7 million in sales taxes.

Elan could not say whether Suffolk has sought or will receive any compensation for the bridge or other services the county may provide. He said county officials will meet with the USGA “in coming weeks to determine the scope of services needed to support . . . the tournament.”

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