Nine bridges on Long Island are in "poor" condition, according to the New York State Department of Transportation. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday / Reece T. Williams; Kendall Rodriguez/Reece T. Williams; Kendall Rodriguez

Nine Long Island bridges carrying a total of more than 67,000 vehicles daily are rated as being in "poor" condition because of possible issues with decking, support beams, piers or abutments, according to state Department of Transportation data and experts.

A "poor" rating does not mean a bridge is unsafe or in danger of collapsing, but that it may need more frequent monitoring, maintenance and repair, postings for weight limits, or replacement in extreme cases of deterioration, according to the DOT.

The data, which was released in February in a report called Key to New York State Highway Bridge Data, helps determine which structures need maintenance, rehabilitation, repairs or further review, the DOT said.

Six of the Island's poor bridges were constructed pre-1935, including three train overpasses jointly maintained by the Long Island Rail Road and local municipalities. Maintenance of the other bridges is spread out, with state agencies managing three, Suffolk County overseeing one, and two handled at the local level.

The Sunrise Highway Bridge over North Road in Hampton Bays is the Island's busiest of the poor-rated bridges, with about 43,800 motorists daily. The youngest poor-rated bridge, in Bohemia, is about 26 years old and was repaired last year after a truck crashed into it, according to the state DOT.

Long Island bridge inspections

Red dots in the map below indicate bridges deemed to be in “poor” condition, according to the state Department of Transportation. Tap on a location for more information.

The state uses standards established by the Federal Highway Administration in its ratings process.

Andrew Herrmann, a principal emeritus and former project manager for major bridge projects at the New York-based engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover, said the federal rating system follows a 1 to 9 score for various components of the bridge, with 9 being the best. Poor bridges are rated between 1 and 4, fair bridges get a grade of 5-6, and good bridges score 7 or higher.

"For a bridge to be rated poor, which was formerly known as structurally deficient, one of three categories has to be 4 or less, and that would be the deck, or the concrete surface you drive over; the superstructure, that’s either the steel or concrete beams that hold up that deck; or the substructure, which are the piers or abutments that carry the loads to the ground," said Herrmann, now a director at CROSS-US, which publishes structural safety information for building and engineering professionals.

"Any one of those rated 4 or less and the whole bridge gets a rating of poor," said Herrmann, whose group is part of the Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a nonprofit based in Reston, Virginia.

Conventional highway bridges are designed for a 75- to 100-year life span, but degradation and subsequent repair is expected when they hit 30 to 45 years of age, said Rigoberto Burgueño, chair of Stony Brook University’s Department of Civil Engineering.

A structure’s rate of deterioration accelerates when there is higher traffic load/demand and freeze-thaw cycles, combined with deicing agents and more frequent snowplowing, Burgueño said. Antiquated structures are more vulnerable to damage from these factors, but the life of a bridge also can be extended with proper rehabilitation.

Overall, though, Long Island's bridges aren't in dire shape. Fewer than 1% of the area’s 691 bridges are rated poor, compared with 10.5% of roughly 17,459 in the rest of the state, according to the DOT. Forty-four percent of highway bridges are maintained by the state DOT, 50% by municipalities and the rest by both state and local authorities.

Bridge engineering experts credit the Island’s mostly younger and less-traveled infrastructure for the less-than-state-average of poor bridges.

"We’re fortunate that the bridges on Long Island are in better condition with respect to the state, and it's likely due to a combination of good maintenance and less severe conditions than other regions," Burgueño said.

New York has one of the nation’s most rigorous bridge inspection programs, state DOT spokesperson Stephen Canzoneri said.

"In New York State, bridge inspectors assess all bridge components and are required to evaluate, score and document the condition of structural elements, as well as the general components common to all bridges," Canzoneri said in a statement.

Island's oldest 'poor' bridge in Manhasset

The Island’s oldest structure labeled poor is the 124-year-old Webster Avenue Bridge in Manhasset. Built at the turn of the century in 1898, it was previously described in 2019 by the LIRR as being in "deteriorated" condition. It runs over the LIRR's Port Washington line in Nassau County.

Webster Avenue Bridge in Manhasset

Maintained by: LIRR and Town of North Hempstead

Daily motorists: 1,251(2017 Federal Highway Administration data) 

Built: 1898

Status: Poor

Photo credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The LIRR, which is responsible for the frame, had done work to ensure the bridge remained safe, but previously announced plans to replace it were paused due to the pandemic, North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said.

In a March 7 letter to interim LIRR president Catherine Rinaldi, Lurvey and other local officials urged the agency to make the replacement project a priority again. New design plans for the overpass were completed in 2019.

The letter noted that a previous inspection found "several red flags, including deterioration of lateral bracing and significant bearing deterioration at the abutments."

"They’ve tried to do intermediate fixes, and those fixes have not been sufficient, so now is the time to replace the bridge," Lurvey said. "They need to construct a modern, new Webster Avenue Bridge that will correct the structural deterioration and substandard design features of the existing bridge."

The LIRR oversees the bridge's structure, and the town manages the deck, sidewalks and roadway.

It’s unclear how much will be pumped into a new Webster Avenue Bridge, but, overall, the LIRR is investing $269 million in bridge upgrades as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $55 billion Capital Plan. Complete replacement of a bridge typically costs around $300 to $375 per square foot of deck area, according to a 2019 report released by TRIP, a transportation research nonprofit.

The two other train overpasses maintained by the LIRR each are more than 85 years old: the Barstow Road Bridge in Great Neck, erected in 1935, and Eastport's River Avenue Bridge, constructed in 1907. Mainly constructed from steel, both are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Federal Highway Administration data shows. Among the criteria for inclusion into the register, a bridge must generally be at least 50 years old and be historically significant.

The Village of Great Neck Plaza repaved Barstow Road last fall to prevent salt and water from seeping through cracks that previously caused concrete to loosen on the underside of the bridge, LIRR officials said. The LIRR removed the loose concrete from the deck and framing. There are also plans to redo the sidewalk, pending approval from the village board, Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Ted Rosen said.

Barstow Road Bridge in Great Neck Plaza

Maintained by: LIRR and Village of Great Neck

Daily motorists: 6,588  (2016 FHWA data) 

Built: 1935

Status: Poor

Photo credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

"An independent engineer and our building commissioner looked at the bridge, and they told us it’s structurally sound," Rosen said. A total of 6,588 cars travel it daily. The LIRR will conduct any necessary work after the sidewalks are fixed, officials said.

The 99-foot-long River Avenue train overpass in Eastport, which has about 345 drivers per day, was closed last summer for repairs and later reopened, LIRR officials said. The LIRR and DOT declined to say what or if any fixes need to be made, but the last date of inspection was on Nov. 24.

River Avenue Bridge in Eastport 

Maintained by: LIRR and Town of Southampton

Daily motorists: 345 (2017 FHWA data)

Built: 1907

Status: Poor

Photo credit: Gordon M. Grant

Bridges that handle more traffic are more challenging to mend because repairs commonly need to be done while the bridge remains operational.

In Suffolk County, the Smith Point Bridge, used by thousands of motorists to get to Fire Island's barrier beach, was marked for replacement in 2016, due to deterioration of pilings and the inability to find electronic replacement parts for the drawbridge. The 1,220-foot-long bridge was repaired in 2010 and 2019.

Previous bridge design plans drew ire from residents for lacking a bike lane, but Suffolk officials said new plans include a shared use path for bikes and pedestrians. New bridge cost estimates were not immediately available from county officials.

Smith Point Bridge in Shirley 

Maintained by: Suffolk County

Daily motorists: 3,301 (2018 FHWA data)

Status: Poor

Photo credit: Newsday/Reece T. Williams

Joseph Brown, Suffolk’s Department of Public Works commissioner, said in a statement that "due to the age of the bridge and significant exposure to the elements that has caused deterioration over time, [Suffolk] has made replacement of the bridge a top priority." A weight limit imposed in 2017 aims to stall deterioration.

Beth Wahl, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Mastic and Shirley, said residents have been venting about the traffic jams caused when the bridge is raised for boats and looks forward to the taller span. The project isn’t expected to take off until late 2023 or 2024.

"It’s such a heavily traveled bridge, and you want it to be in good condition," she said. "You could be backed up there on beach day for a couple of miles waiting for that bridge to close, so it will be a big, big difference."

In Hampton Bays, the four-lane Route 27-Sunrise Highway overpass, a main thoroughfare into the easternmost points of the South Fork, is rated poor. Located roughly .3 miles east of Shinnecock Canal, it is maintained by the DOT, which has plans to revamp it, officials said.

Sunrise Highway Bridge over North Road in Hampton Bays

Daily motorists: 43,800 (2019 FHWA data)

Built: 1959

Status: Poor

Photo credit: Newsday/Chris Ware​​​​​​

"It gets a lot of use both commercial and residential," said Maria Hults, president of the Hampton Bays Civic Association, who has not noticed any issues with the bridge or road. "I would hope considering the amount of traffic that crosses that area, that it is kept in good condition and whatever they consider to be in poor condition is repaired."

Inspection reports, as well as other information, including traffic volumes and loads, are used to make decisions regarding bridge projects, according to the DOT.

Of the poor bridges, the DOT-maintained Lincoln Avenue Bridge is the second-busiest, with 11,766 cars logged daily.

Lincoln Avenue Bridge in Bohemia

Maintained by: New York State DOT

Daily motorists: 11,766 (2017 FHWA data)

Status: Poor

Photo credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The other bridges in poor condition are:

  • The scenic Lakeview Avenue West Bridge, completed in 1910 over Upper Cascade Lake in Brightwaters;
  • Lakeview Avenue West Bridge in Brightwaters

    Maintained by Village of Brightwaters

    Daily motorists: None listed (FHWA data)

    Built: 1910

    Status: Poor

    Photo credit: Courtesy Village of Brightwaters

  • Mallow Reach Bridge, constructed in 1932 over Auerbach Channel in Hewlett Harbor;
  • Mallow Reach Bridge, crossing Auerbach Channel in Hewlett Harbor

    Maintained by: Village of Hewlett Harbor

    Daily motorists: None listed

    Built: 1932

    Status: Poor

    Photo credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

     

  • And Park Road Bridge over Connetquot Brook in Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale.
  • Park Road bridge inside Connetquot State Park in Oakdale

    Open only to pedestrians for trail access and park maintenance vehicles

    Status: Poor

    Photo credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Two local officials were surprised to learn their structures made the poor list. The Lakeview Avenue West bridge was recently restored, and a new inspection is expected in May, according to Nicole Rhodes, a treasurer for the Village of Brightwaters.

Hewlett Harbor Mayor Mark Weiss said Mallow Reach Bridge is in good repair and that there are no pending violations or red flags. Weiss added that the road on the bridge was repaved this summer.

With Arielle Martinez

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