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DOT eyes safety of Canajoharie bridge

December 8, 2008
By KERRY McAVOY /The Leader-Herald

CANAJOHARIE - State Department of Transportation officials told village officials last week that DOT might install safety barriers at the Incinerator Road bridge if the village doesn't act first.

During Tuesday's village Board of Trustees meeting, DOT officials said it may install Jersey barriers - triangular concrete blocks that separate the flow of traffic - if the village does not make a decision about fixing the bridge soon.

Local and state officials are uncertain who is responsible for maintaining the bridge, which is used to access both the wastewater treatment plant and parking at the Beech-Nut factory.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

The Incinerator Road bridge is seen Friday in Canajoharie, with the Beech-Nut sign visible in the background.

Deputy Mayor Jeffrey Baker said Beech-Nut employees have used the bridge to reach parking since the village took over the riverfront lots several years ago.

Village Attorney Norman Mastromoro said according to documents he has found, the state Thruway Authority owns the bridge, with the town of Canajoharie having primary maintenance responsibilities and village having secondary maintenance responsibilities.

"The DOT, in all fairness, has an obligation to flag any danger in Canajoharie regardless of who owns it," Mastromoro said.

Mastromoro said there are legal questions about who should fix the bridge, but practically speaking, the village needs the bridge to get to the wastewater treatment plant.

"You [the village board] have to think about which one of those tracks you want to follow," Mastromoro said.

Mayor Leigh Fuller said if the bridge is flagged by the state as too dangerous to cross, production at the Beech-Nut facility would likely be forced to stop, because there would be no place for people to park and enter the building.

"If the bridge is closed, we have to shut down production the next day," Fuller said.

Delaware Engineering's Alan Tavenner, who is working with the village, said the board also has to consider that the road will be needed even after Beech-Nut leaves the site and moves its operations to its new complex in the town of Florida. The future operator of the plant will need to access parking, he said.

One option for the village would be to replace some of the beams that support the bridge to make it more structurally sound.

Tavenner estimated the minimum cost of replacing beams on the bridge would be about $20,000.

"These are not enormous repairs, it's simply a Band-Aid," Tavenner said.

Mastromoro said if the village were to take any steps or spend any money repairing the bridge, it would be in response to safety concerns and not a sign that the village claims responsibility for the bridge.

Fuller said he is afraid that in 10 or 15 years, the village would have to repair or replace the bridge. He said he would like to see the ownership and maintenance issues straightened out soon.

"I don't want a future board and future mayor to have to deal with it," Fuller said.

DOT Bridge Manager Engineer Mike Gelfuso said the village would need to install Jersey barriers and possibly limit traffic on the bridge to one direction at a time.

DOT Regional Design Engineer Stephen Zywiak said the village has three options for the barriers: It could try to borrow or lease them from the Thruway Authority, buy them from an independent contractor, or do nothing and wait for DOT to install the barriers. In the third scenario, the village would receive a bill from the state agency.

Baker said the village may not be able to afford $20,000 for new beams or the cost of Jersey barriers for the bridge.

"We have no FEMA money coming in for six months, and we've been waiting for it for two years," Baker said, referring to federal disaster relief funds expected in the wake of the 2006 flood. "We're broke."

The village took no action on the bridge and tabled any decision until it meets again Jan. 6.



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