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Thread: A rash of bridge construction

  1. #1

    Default A rash of bridge construction

    New York Daily News -
    All that roadwork has city at a crawl
    Monday, October 7th, 2002

    A rash of bridge construction has drivers across the city howling the same refrain: You can't get there from here.

    The latest epidemic broke out last week over the Harlem River, where the start of a three-year project on the Third Ave. Bridge snarled traffic.

    Miserable Bronx drivers have lots of company. Thousands of weary travelers are enduring long-term work on the Triborough, Manhattan and George Washington bridges.

    "When they close part of the bridge, it kills my business, said Quang Tran, 37, a Chinatown grocer who commutes over the Manhattan Bridge from his home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. "I sell fresh fish, but not when I'm stuck on the bridge."

    Especially maddening are the orange barriers that line alternate routes. Drivers trying to skirt the Third Ave. span encounter work on the Tribor-ough. Those avoiding the Triborough find a mess on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

    One silver lining is that New York City, once home to some of the most decrepit bridges in the country, has made tremendous strides in fixing its stable of river crossings.

    Since starting work 20 years ago, crews have overhauled the Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges. Repairs to the Manhattan Bridge, which began in the early 1980s, wrap up in early 2004.

    Never-ending story

    The bad news is that there's no end in sight to construction headaches.

    "Our highway system was built in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, mostly with a planned life span of 30 years," said Sigurd Grava, an urban planning professor at Columbia University. "We're facing construction for the foreseeable future, if not forever."

    Four more Harlem River bridges are awaiting major repairs. So are the Battery Tunnel and Whitestone Bridge.

    And major freeways leading to Manhattan will be torn up in the coming decades. The jammed Gowanus Expressway, which is falling apart and routinely undergoes emergency repairs that tie up traffic, could be rebuilt or replaced with a tunnel.

    Other big projects coming down the pike include work on the FDR Drive, the Belt Parkway and the Cross Bronx Expressway. New Jersey and Long Island leaders are mulling plans for multiyear freeway work.

    Road planners said they try to reduce the pain by scheduling as much work as possible at night and during nonrush hours. But they acknowledge that with more people, jobs and cars in the region, even midday and nighttime traffic can seem like rush hour.

    Officials said they attempt to coordinate projects so that two main routes from one area to another don't get blocked at the same time.

    But several factors have conspired to thwart that goal. One problem is that the city put off repair work during the fiscal crises of the 1970s and 1980s, creating a huge backlog of desperately needed repairs.

    Up for grabs

    When repair money finally started flowing in the 1980s and 1990s, politicians were eager to grab the funds while the grabbing was good.

    "The bridges are all being done at the same time because they can get the money," said Rae Zimmerman, director of the Institute for Civil Infra-structure Systems at New York University.

    Another reason drivers see so much work going on at once is that some major projects take 10 years or longer to complete.

    The $1 billion rehab of the Triborough, for example, won't be done until 2007. Waiting that long to begin work on the crumbling Harlem River bridges wasn't feasible, city officials said.

    "We try our best to keep people informed about what's happening," said Tom Cocola, a city Department of Transportation spokesman. "But I'm not going to say there's no pain."

    With Kerry Burke

    It's a bridge too far for the madding crowd

    Start: Sept. 2002
    Finish: April 2005
    Agency: New York City
    Cost: $118 million
    Purpose: Bridge rebuilding
    For drivers trying to travel between the Bronx and Manhattan, things are going to get worse before they get better.

    The city is in the middle of a two-decade effort to repair all eight Harlem River bridges. Two spans are done, two are under construction and four more await overhauls.

    The newest squeeze began last Thursday when crews closed part of the Third Ave. Bridge. Officials have tried to ease the jam by reversing one lane of the Willis Ave. Bridge.

    Day one was awful. Befuddled drivers clogged Bruckner Blvd. while new traffic patterns jammed the FDR Drive. A person who threatened to jump from the Third Ave. Bridge made matters worse.

    "This is going to be rough," said Hector Torres, 40, a parking garage worker who commutes to Manhattan from Castle Hill, the Bronx. The last phase of work on the Macombs Dam Bridge, which will begin now that the Yankees' season is over, promises to throw another wrench into the works. And when the Third Ave. project is done, the city will begin shutting down the Willis Ave. Bridge in 2007.

    Bill Egbert

    Start: Dec. 1999
    Finish: Spring 2003
    Agency: Port Authority
    Cost: $26 million
    Purpose: Rebuilding ramps
    Don't blame the bridge. The tremendous steel towers that hold up the two-deck span are as strong as ever. They're even getting a paint job that'll make them look as good as new.

    But the 13 ramps that connect the bridge to roads in Manhattan and New Jersey are another story. Until three years ago, when the Port Authority started fixing them, they were scarred by years of abuse.

    One by one, ramps have been closed or narrowed for repairs. The work has led to backups on the Henry Hudson Parkway as evening traffic lines up to squeeze onto the bridge.

    Some urban planners said the bridge - and the two Hudson River tunnels - will remain jam-med until another passenger rail tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan is built.

    In the meantime, drivers like Susan DeLuca, 40, have learned to worm their way through the bottleneck. Her secret is the Martha Wash-ington Way entrance in New Jersey. "Don't tell anyone," said DeLuca, who commutes 90 minutes a day from Cliffside, N.J., to Stamford, Conn.

    Austin Fenner

    Start: 1982
    Finish: Jan. 2004
    Agency: New York City
    Cost: $500 million
    Purpose: Rebuilding and painting
    It's no joke: The Manhattan Bridge has been under construction for 20 years. Repair work is 14 years behind schedule.

    Repairs are almost done. Really. This time the city means it. By January 2004, all car lanes and train tracks will be back in service - or else the contractor will be fined $50,000 a day.

    Jaded drivers and business owners in Chinatown and the lower East Side said they'll believe it when they see it.

    "The Manhattan Bridge took less than 10 years to build but 20 years to repair," said Adrian Achan, 34, a FedEx driver from Howard Beach, Queens.

    The bridge was in awful shape before repairs began. A design flaw - train tracks on the outside instead of down the middle - caused the decks to bounce up and down as much as 10 feet. Decades of corrosion left metal supports dangerously thin.

    Repairs in the 1980s were bogged down by bureaucratic infighting and legal wrangling between the state and its lead contractor. But during the past several years, work has marched along.

    Kerry Burke

    Start: 1997
    Finish: 2007
    Agency: Metropolitan Transportation Authority
    Cost: $1 billion
    Purpose: Major overhaul
    Until a few weeks ago, renovations on the three-pronged behemoth Robert Moses built were moving along without causing too much traffic chaos. But then officials determined an aging ramp that funnels traffic from Queens into Manhattan needed immediate repairs.

    Originally scheduled to be rebuilt one lane at a time, the ramp has been squeezed from three lanes to one. The crunch will last until next month.

    "Before, it wasn't that bad. But now, forget it," said Juan Rodriguez, 50, who drives an oil truck over the bridge several times a day.

    During the project, crews will widen the Bronx toll plaza, build new access ramps to Randalls Island and redeck the entire bridge.

    Warren Woodberry, Jr.

    (From Grand Central Parkway to Midtown Tunnel)
    Start: June 1999
    Finish: 2005
    Agency: New York State
    Cost: Unavailable
    Purpose: Rebuild roads, bridges
    They're done repairing the Midtown Tunnel. Good luck getting to it.

    The main road leading to the tubes has been torn up for more than three years - three very long, very frustrating years for Queens and Long Island commuters.

    Coupled with an increasing number of cars and trucks using the highway, the construction has led to insane traffic jams. "I am trying to get myself reassigned so I don't have to come into the city," said Nick Giannakakis, 25, an air conditioner repairman who lives in Bayside, Queens.

    The roadwork won't eliminate congestion, since the project isn't adding much capacity. But crews are re-building 27 bridges, putting in better drainage and lighting and making curves and dips safer.

    Ruth Bashinsky

  2. #2
    Build the Tower Verre antinimby's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    in Limbo


    A Bridge No Longer So Humble, at $600 Million

    The Willis Avenue Bridge, which was completed in 1901, cost about $1.6 million to build. A planned
    replacement structure will cost the city quite a bit more.

    Published: March 31, 2007

    The Willis Avenue Bridge is hardly the most recognizable or the most graceful of the city’s many bridges, but it will soon gain a distinction as one of the most expensive.

    The city has long planned to replace the Willis Avenue Bridge, a 3,212-foot-long, 106-year-old structure spanning the Harlem River, with a new one, just to the south. But when officials at the Transportation Department opened the bids on March 8 they got a shock. The two bids submitted came in at $612 million and $637 million — each $200 million or so greater than estimated.

    Transportation Department engineers had projected a cost of $417 million.

    Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall said that the city had no choice but to go ahead with the work. The existing structure, a swing bridge that opens to allow ships to pass, often requires costly maintenance because of its age. And the ramps are configured in a way that has made it a site of frequent accidents.

    “It’s like having an old house and you have to keep on fixing the stuff versus having a new house,” said Ms. Weinshall, who is stepping aside as transportation commissioner next month after six years on the job. She said that construction was likely to start around the end of the year and that the project would take five years to complete.

    When it is done, Ms. Weinshall said, the Willis Avenue Bridge will be the most expensive bridge ever built by her department.

    But the reconstruction of some bridges has cost more, and New York State and New Jersey spent more, when inflation is taken into account, for the George Washington Bridge, which was completed in 1931. The 6,016-foot-long Brooklyn Bridge, which was financed by what were then the separate cities of Brooklyn and New York, cost about $16 million to build. It was finished in 1883. In today’s dollars, taking inflation into account, that would be about $300 million, according to the Web site.

    Of course, were the city to build a new Brooklyn Bridge today, the price would reach into the billions. The city has spent more than $3 billion over the last two decades to rehabilitate the East River bridges and is in the midst of an $829 million project to reconstruct the Manhattan Bridge, according to information on the Transportation Department’s Web site.

    The George Washington Bridge, built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, cost $60 million, which works out to more than $800 million in today’s dollars.

    But no new bridge has begun its life with a budget approaching that of the Willis Avenue project, which also includes the cost of building ramps to the surrounding roadways, a part of which will be reimbursed by the state.

    The Willis Avenue Bridge had much more humble origins. It cost $1.6 million to build and was opened in 1901. Last year, as the city prepared to seek bids on the new project, it offered to sell the existing bridge for $1 to anyone who would take it away and preserve it at another site rather than having to turn it into scrap. But the logistics of removing the bridge were too complicated; there were no takers.

    Kay Sarlin, a Transportation Department spokeswoman, said that about 5 percent of the contract amount, or about $30 million, represents the cost of demolishing the old bridge. She said the contractor would dispose of it, most likely by selling it as scrap steel.

    The stone masonry that is part of the bridge’s structure will be recycled in city parks, she said, and much of it will go to the new Brooklyn Bridge park that is planned along the East River in Brooklyn.

    The Transportation Department is not the only public agency to be hit with unexpected cost increases in its major construction projects.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently began a review of its construction activity in search of ways to cut rapidly ballooning costs that have led it to cancel some large projects.

    Ms. Weinshall said the price of steel has skyrocketed in the last two years and the cost of fuel has also soared.

    And she pointed to the large number of major construction projects that are either going on or about to start in the region, including the World Trade Center, the Fulton Street Transit Center and the Second Avenue subway, as well as the many office buildings and apartment towers that have been going up.

    “This is the strongest construction market in New York City in a long, long time,” said Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, an umbrella group that represents contractors, developers and unions.
    “There’s a lot of work out there and there’s a lot of work to come and the pool of contractors is fairly limited and they just don’t have the capacity to do all that work.”

    Chris Ward, managing director of the General Contractors Association, said that with plenty of work available today, contractors were often reluctant to do large projects for public agencies. The agencies can be slow to pay, he said, and often place the risk of delays and engineering problems on the contractor’s shoulders.

    That the two bids on the Willis Avenue project were so close to each other, he said, shows that they were a more accurate reflection of the construction market than the estimate made by the city.

    Another consequence of the glut of projects is that fewer companies bid on each job.

    The Willis Avenue Bridge, a 3,212-foot-long, 106-year-old structure, will
    be replaced by a new structure at a cost of more than $600 million.

    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

  3. #3


    View all the bridges on my April 29 cruise.

    9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
    Tickets $11.00
    Capacity extremely limited!

  4. #4


    New Willis Avenue Bridge under construction at Port of Coeymans, NY
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  5. #5
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village


    That is very cool.

  6. #6
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Quote Originally Posted by CMANDALA View Post
    New Willis Avenue Bridge under construction at Port of Coeymans, NY
    Clunkier than the original.

  7. #7
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    On the Rails in North NJ


    How many times a year do the Harlem river bridges open?

  8. #8

    Default Willis Avenue Bridge construction April 24 2010

    The new span will be placed south of the original bridge. Work proceeds with roadways and foundations.
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