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Rockland officials say $31 million West Nyack road improvement failed to halt flooding

Route 59 in West Nyack near the Palisades

Route 59 in West Nyack near the Palisades Center Mall. (June 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim Alcorn

Rockland officials are demanding answers from the state after a flood-prone section of Route 59 in West Nyack that recently underwent $31 million in improvements was shut down last weekend during heavy rain.

The major thoroughfare near the Palisades Mall was closed intermittently over two days as rainwater flooded parts of the roadway and clogged traffic near the Thruway, Assemb. Kenneth P. Zebrowski (D-New City) said.

The road improvement project, completed in October and funded by state and federal money, was aimed at replacing bridge crossings and updating the old road surfaces while raising them up by 18 inches -- precisely to prevent flooding issues.

Zebrowski, along with state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange), said they met with state Department of Transportation heads about a year ago at the site and relayed numerous complaints from residents about commuting troubles associated with the frequent closure of the often-flooded roadway.

"They said they were taking steps and that they were specifically going to address some of the flooding concerns," Zebrowski said. "It was just completed -- $31 million and we had our first major rain event and the road was closed for the better parts of two days."

The floodwaters come from the Hackensack River, which often overflows into that area when storms pass through, Zebrowski said.

"I'm not an engineer, but if you're raising a road 18 inches, was there a consideration to raise it 24 inches?" Zebrowski asked. "It was an extensive project; it took a lot of time and money and we want to make sure it was done right."

Zebrowski and Carlucci want the DOT to conduct a review of the work done and perform any necessary fixes. On Tuesday, the two sent a letter to Joan McDonald, the DOT's commissioner, asking the agency to find out what went wrong.

"The $31 million project was partially in response to past flooding that was a danger to motorists and caused damage to local businesses. It is concerning that the project is less than a year completed and there has already been a major flood occurrence," the letter obtained by Newsday read. "The rainfall this past weekend (June 7-8) was significant; however, it was less than what could happen in a Hurricane such as Irene."

For more than a decade, the stretch of aging road has proved to be a headache for drivers who have been forced to be creative in finding ways around the closures.

"The recent flooding along Route 59 raises serious questions and concerns over the success of the recent construction project. It is clear that a thorough review and detailed assessment is what's needed to determine the cause of continued issues along this roadway," Carlucci said in a statement. "I believe more must, and can, be done to alleviate the concerns of Rockland taxpayers who have invested heavily in the successful outcome of this project."

The DOT did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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