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How safe are Brooklyn’s bridges?

Much infrastructure crumbling, but major repairs underway

May 24, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The collapse of a bridge on Interstate 5 in Washington State this past Thursday has some Brooklynites wondering about the condition of our own bridges.

According to Transportation for America’s 2011 State of Our Nation’s Bridges report, drivers have every reason to be concerned.  In Brooklyn, more than 30 bridges and overpasses were rated “structurally insufficient” according to government standards.

The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has already started major bridge repair work on the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, DOT is repairing the ramps and approaches and repainting the entire bridge to prevent steel corrosion. Work is underway on the Manhattan Bridge to replace all 628 suspenders, rewrap main cables, replace and update lighting, and install access platforms for the bridge towers.

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But smaller bridges and overpasses are also in need of immediate attention.

* The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE, or I-278) is a major offender. It was rated unsound in a number of locations: at Old Fulton Street in Brooklyn Heights, Cadman Plaza East, at the Brooklyn Bridge, Flushing Avenue, at the Grand Street exit, Joralemon Street, Union Street, Hamilton Avenue/Hicks Street, and 6th Avenue in Gowanus.

Because of budget problems, the state has put on hold major rehabilitation work on the cantilevered section of the BQE through Brooklyn Heights.

The BQE’s approach to the Verazano Bridge was chosen by Business Insider as one of 17 major bridge in the U.S. “that should be fixed immediately,” based on ratings provided by the Federal Highway Administration. According to the FHWA, the bridge approach received a 49 out of 100 sufficiency rating. The threshold below which a bridge is considered deficient or functionally obsolete is 80.

* Sections of the Belt Parkway (907-C) are also crumbling. As a matter of fact, the dubious distinction of the “two busiest deficient bridges” in all of New York State went to the Belt Parkway where it crosses Rockaway Park, and one of the BQE intersections in Staten Island.

Sections of the Belt rated unsound include: crossing Bay Ridge Avenue; Sheepshead Bay Road; Ocean Avenue; Bedford Avenue; Nostrand Avenue; Gerritsen Inlet; Mill Basin, Rockaway Park, Paerdegat Basin, Rockaway Parkway, and Fresh Creek Basin.

DOT has already begun reconstruction of several of these bridges and their approaches on the Belt Parkway. The first contract, which began in October 2009, includes the Belt Parkway over Fresh Creek Basin, Rockaway Parkway, and Paerdegat Basin, as well as the connecting highways between the bridges. Eventually DOT will rebuild seven of these bridges.

* Other unsound bridges in Brooklyn include: 65th Street crossing the BQE west of 5th Avenue; 79th Street crossing the BQE; Seeley Street crossing Prospect Avenue; Hill Drive Crossing Prospect Park Lake; Ocean Avenue crossing the Brighton Line; on Crooke Avenue crossing the BMT Line; Beverly Road crossing the Brighton Line; Foster Avenue crossing the Brighton Line.

A Flatbush Avenue overpass has been rated unsound where it crosses tracks in Flatbush; an Atlantic Avenue overpass is unsound crossing tracks in East New York.

On the upside, the deteriorating Kosciuszko Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens will undergo repairs starting this fall, a full 18 months earlier than originally planned. This project represents the largest single infrastructure project under Governor Cuomo´s NY Works initiative. Construction is expected to be completed in Spring 2018.

And the tiny, ancient Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal, which was damaged by flooding in Hurricane Sandy, is currently undergoing repairs. (This bridge still bears the sign: “Any Person Driving over this Bridge Faster than a Walk will be Subject to a Penalty of Five Dollars For Each Offence.”)

The unsound condition of many of New York State’s bridges is pretty much par for the course. In New York 12 percent of bridges have been rated structurally deficient – or 2,088 out of a total of 17,365 bridges. This compares to nearly 11.5 percent of roughly 600,000 bridges nationwide.

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