Riverhead bridge still under construction year after initial deadline

Construction on the bridge, located on Route 25 at the LIE junction, continues a year after its initial proposed completion deadline. Photo by Chris Peraino

By Chris Peraino and Brittany Tesoriero

A year after its initial deadline, repairs at the Riverhead bridge on Highway 25 at the Long Island Expressway junction are still in progress, and the NY DOT has issued a new, unlikely, completion date for this spring.

Construction on the bridge began in July of 2015 with a $10.2 million budget. It aimed to amend asphalt and structural corrosion, improve the bridge’s drainage system and update its guide rail. The addition of a sidewalk, which is still nonexistent, was also part of the construction plan. Guide rails have yet to be updated and construction is still occurring on the bridge’s structure, although it remains operational. The status of drainage improvements remain unclear. 

“Construction to replace the bridge deck is currently underway and is scheduled for completion in the Spring of 2017,” Ed Hearn, the Public Information Officer for the NY DOT, said via email.

The bridge, adjacent to the Hotel Indigo in Riverhead, was deemed “structurally deficient” by the National Bridge Inventory Database, a collection of federally sanctioned bridge inspections compiled by the Federal Highway Administration. It  is part of Region 10, as classified by NY DOT, which has a total of 564 bridges. Since 1995, the region has replaced or reconstructed 156 of these bridges, according to its website.

“One completed, the bridge will no longer be rated as ‘deficient,’” Hearn added. 

Corrosion was gradually caused by traffic and weather stress. After its latest inspection, the bridge was said to be “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is” according to the database. It was built in 1972. 

Data for the inventory is submitted by each state’s respective Department of Transportation and may date as far back as 2014, and as near as 2016 due to inspection processes.

Inspectors rate each bridge on a 0-9 scale, 0 being collapsed. A 4 denotes poor condition and a “structurally deficient” rating. This status does not indicate the severity of a defect but rather that a defect is present,” according to the database’s website.

“Labeling a bridge as structurally deficient means that we need to develop and execute a plan to repair the parts of the bridge that are reducing its rating or replace the bridge entirely,” Ryan Giles, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Stony Brook University, said via email. “After repairs, the bridge is inspected again and assigned a new score. Because the repair or replacement plan was designed to target the faults of the bridge, the bridges typically receive higher scores.”

The Riverhead bridge is just one of seven “structurally deficient” bridges in Suffolk County. The worst rated is an East Hampton bridge off of Cranberry Hole Rd., which yields a 10.7% sufficiency rating and the following evaluation: “Basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action.” In comparison, the Riverhead bridge has a 75.1 sufficiency rating.

Poor infrastructure and roads have already started to affect some of the more than 2.8 million people live in Region 10. 

“A lot of old people come [to Suffolk County] and they talk about how every year they see that it’s more dangerous for people, they’ve been here awhile so they see the change happen,” Angel Nomel, a gas attendant at a Gulf gas station in Setauket said. 

Suffolk County is also plagued by 572 “functionally obsolete” bridges. Bridges of any score can obtain this classification if its geometry has become antiquated and can no longer support a contemporary flow of traffic. Most of these bridges are older and therefore, not designed for modern vehicle dimensions. 

“Bridge health is very much like human health, if we paid for better preventative maintenance then our bridges would not reach such poor conditions and the traffic disruptions would be less severe,” Giles added.

Governor Cuomo’s recent allotment of $115 million for bridge repairs on Long Island and in New York City is set to start April 1. The grant will hopefully aid in quickening the process of bridge repairs.

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Long Island fishing industry mounts legal opposition to proposed wind farm

A dawn picture of the Montauk Point Light, which sits about 35 miles from the location of the proposed wind farm. Photo by Chris Peraino

By Chris Peraino and Joseph Caccavale

The local Long Island fishing industry is prepping a legal case against the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to halt an impending lease of a wind farm 11 miles off the coast of Jones Beach.

The two sides will meet in court by the end of spring or early summer, Andrew Minkiewicz, an attorney representing the interests of the commercial fishing industry, said.

“If you want to build a wind farm ‘that’s great,’ but let’s go through a public process first,” Minkiewicz said.

 

The coalition, spearheaded by a scallop industry trade group, the Fisheries Survival Fund, and comprised of a number of fishing associations and businesses, alleges that BOEM did not adequately consider potential environmental impacts on marine wildlife. Such impacts include possible sedimentation that would disrupt fish, shellfish and squid species, exposure of fish to barotrauma from pile driving practices conducted during installation of the wind farm and the endangerment of bird species that migrate through the area. In return, impediments to commercial fishing production would arise.

As a burgeoning industry, the ramifications of wind farms are just beginning to be realized. Critiques of Maryland and California farms have circulated, with critics citing negative environmental impacts and a decrease in property value of local residents.

“First thing for us is are you going to be destroying the fish,” Bonnie Brady, Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said. “Because if the fish aren’t there, it doesn’t really matter. And if it’s short-term, there is no proof once they do anything of this what are the generational consequences of your actions. That’s why they should be studying this and if they started back in 2000 when they were talking about this cockamamie idea, maybe we would have a better idea as to what’s going on.”

Any impact to New York’s sand ridges, that provide vertical relief up to 10 meters, could put the well-being of “more than 35 federally managed species of fish and shellfish” at risk, according to a February 2013 area assessment conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “These important habitats are likely to occur in the [wind farm’s] area and should be further evaluated prior to any potential project development,” the document states.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided earlier in the month not to grant a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit, finding the insurance of Statoil’s preliminary lease not strong enough to prove immediate, irreparable harm. But the case will continue, with BOEM arguing that the time to assess environmental impact would be further down the line of production, years from now.

“I think you’re supposed to assess them before you make a lease, call me goofy that way,” Brady said.  “But if I were Statoil, I would certainly want it taken care of before the lease is signed because then you just hand over the money and BOEM says thank you very much.”

Statoil, a Norwegian-based wind farm company, won the rights to the wind farm with a record-setting bid of $42.46 million. The previous record for an off-shore wind lease was $8.7, set in 2014 for development off the coast of Maryland.

“Do you not believe that money talks?,” Brady said. “I know there is a great deal of profit involved in the investor. I’m not sure if it’s four to six times more expensive there is any benefit to consumers, but I can’t imagine that destroying the ocean is up on anyone’s list. But that’s what will happen in these areas. These are industrial projects.”

“We take note of the court’s decision,” Peter Symons, head of Statoil’s U.S. media relations said via email. “This offshore wind farm could potentially provide New York City and Long Island with a significant, long-term source of renewable electricity that aligns with New York State’s far-reaching clean energy goals.  Working cooperatively with all stakeholders as we proceed with the study phase of this process is a high priority for Statoil.”