Profile of Executive Director Jack Gaffney and the New York State Bridge Authority

Jim Cropper

In 1609 when Henry Hudson first explored the 306- mile-long river that now bears his name, he likely could not have imagined the roles the river would play in the future of America.

One hundred and sixty-six years later, the Hudson River played a critical role in the American Revolution against the British government. The Hudson River served as both a highway and battlefield utilized by British naval vessels and troops to attack the land and naval forces of the revolutionaries, and vice versa. The British plan of attack was to control the Hudson River and its valley — and by doing so — split the colonies in two. (We know how that plan worked out for the British!)

Today, the Hudson River is still one of the most important waterways in the country. It plays a critical role in the economy of New York City, upstate New York and the northeastern United States. More important, more than 50 million people cross the Hudson every year by using five critical bridges, managed, maintained and operated by the New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA).

The NYSBA was created in 1932, just as vehicular traffic was becoming a major influence in the country. Then Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a resident of the Hudson Valley, decided that rather than further strain already over-burdened state tax revenues to build, acquire, maintain and operate Hudson River bridges, the state should finance the construction of a bridge by selling bonds that would be secured by revenues from the bridge and other bridges as they were built and/or acquired in years to come.

Today, the NYSBA is responsible for five bridges in the Hudson River valley with a replacement value of approximately $1 billion. The bridges are:

• the Rip Van Winkle Bridge between Hudson and Catskill,

• the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge,

• the Mid-Hudson Bridge between Poughkeepsie and Highland,

• the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, and

• the Bear Mountain Bridge.

The NYSBA operates with a governing board consisting of five members appointed by the governor. Each member serves a five-year term, receives no compensation and is a resident of one of the counties in the Authority’s primary service area.

Serving as the executive director of the NYSBA is Jack Gaffney. Gov. George Pataki appointed Gaffney to his position in 1997. Prior to his appointment, Gaffney founded his own private business, held executive positions with IBM and ITT, and served as director of industrial development of the Empire State Development Corporation. He grew up in New York City and Yonkers. Jack and his wife, Irma, live in northern Westchester County in Cortlandt Manor. They have three adult children, Sara, Scot and Mark.

Spanning the Hudson

Each of the five bridges that cross the Hudson River have a unique look and ‘personality.’

Maintaining them requires a crew of 56 maintenance workers. In addition, the NYSBA employs approximately 48 student interns for 8 to10 weeks during the summer months. The interns must be returning students in the fall and be able to earn income toward their tuition while gaining valuable job experience.

It’s interesting to note how much these 56 maintenance workers have in common with many highway workers throughout the state — despite the fact that they’re only responsible for 40 lane-miles of road. Now, that may not sound like a lot of road, but when you stop and consider the fact that it’s all suspended over one of the largest rivers in the country, you begin to understand some of the unique complexities the workers face in day-to-day operations. The NYSBA maintenance workers do have a lot in common with some of their fellow workers at village, city, town and county highway and public works departments, but it’s the differences that stand out. They’re not just using paint to stripe roads or paint trucks and equipment, for instance — they’re battling structural oxidation with it on a continuous basis. They can’t just pave a shoulder with temporary binder when they need to do work on a traffic lane — they have to divert traffic within the limited width of a bridge. When they need to do routine sub-surface inspections, they need to use scuba divers. And to top it all off, some of the work must be done hundreds of feet in the air.

To know these five bridges, (actually six when you consider that the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge is two separate spans), is to know their vital statistics. Here they are in the order that they were put into service under NYSBA:

The Mid-Hudson Bridge connects the Village of Highland on the west with the City of Poughkeepsie on the east. The bridge opened in 1930 at a cost of $5.9 million. It was acquired by NYSBA in 1933. Its current replacement value is approximately $175 million. The overall length of the bridge is 3,000 ft. The main bridge is a parallel wire cable suspension bridge with both main span and side spans suspended. In 2001 it served 13.3 million crossings.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge connects the Village of Catskill on the west with the City of Hudson on the east. The bridge opened in 1935 at a cost of $2.4 million. Its current replacement value is approximately $115.8 million. The overall length of the bridge is 5,000 ft. The bridge is a combination deck truss and cantilevered suspended thru truss. In 2001 it served 5 million crossings.

The Bear Mountain Bridge connects Route 9W and the Palisades Parkway in Orange County with Route 9D in Westchester County, north of Peekskill. The bridge opened in 1924 at a cost of $2.9 million. It was acquired by NYSBA in 1940. Its current replacement value is approximately $89.3 million. The overall length of the bridge is 2,400 ft. The bridge is a parallel wire cable suspension bridge with a main span of 1,632 ft. In 2001 it served 6.4 million crossings.

The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge connects the City of Kingston on the west with Rhinecliff on the east. The bridge opened in 1957 at a cost of $17.5 million. Its current replacement value is approximately $159.4 million. The overall length of the bridge is 7,793 ft. The bridge is built with three continuous under-deck trusses and various girder and truss approach spans. In 2001 it served 6.86 million crossings.

The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge connects the City of Newburgh on the west with the City of Beacon on the east. Its north span opened in 1963 at a cost of $ 19.5 million. Its current replacement value is approximately $146.2 million. The overall length of the north bridge is 7,855 ft. Its south span opened in 1980 at a cost of $93.6 million. Its current replacement value is approximately $203.9 million. The overall length of the south bridge is 7,789 ft. Both bridges are a combination deck truss and cantilevered suspended thru truss construction. In 2001 they served 24.3 million crossings.

NYSBA bridges are equipped to process E-ZPass, the fast and easy electronic toll collection system that most New Yorkers are very familiar with now. As vehicles with E-ZPass tags pass through E-ZPass-equipped toll lanes, the system recognizes their tag’s individual code. Motorists don’t need a toll ticket or money to pay the toll at the toll plaza. E-ZPass has enhanced traffic flow at toll booths significantly since it was first introduced.

In October 2000, the NYSBA board approved an aggressive and visionary five-year capital improvement program for the years 2001 to 2005. The Capital Improvement Program reflects the Authority’s commitment to providing Hudson Valley residents, businesses and visitors with traffic arteries of impeccable structural integrity, operated and maintained with regard for the highest standards of public safety.

Each year, each bridge gets a detailed physical inspection by an independent firm of structural and civil engineers. The results of these inspections drive the annual work program for the in-house maintenance crews at each bridge. The inspections also produce recommendations for additional research or study, specific project recommendations for the five-year Capital Improvement Program and a long-term capital needs projection for financial planning purposes. The five-year Capital Improvement Program addresses all currently identified problem areas, while it begins to address problems that are expected to arise in subsequent years.

NYSBA’s total revenues in 2001 were $37.4 million. A large portion of the Authority’s annual budget goes to preventive maintenance activities that are over and above the skill and/or staffing capability of their in-house maintenance crews. A good example of this expense is the removal of toxic lead coatings on the older bridge structures and replacement coating to preserve the integrity of steel bridge members. An aggressive lead abatement project continues at all the bridges and is scheduled to continue through the year 2010 and is a testament to the Authority’s recognition of its environmental responsibilities.

Program cost estimates, including painting and lead abatement, at the five bridges are:

• Rip Van Winkle Bridge: $11.8 million;

• Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge: $9.5 million;

• Mid-Hudson Bridge: $5.9 million;

• Newburgh-Beacon Bridge: $9 million; and

• Bear Mountain Bridge: $4.5 million.

The five-year Capital Improvement Program includes major allowances to enhance safety, efficiency and/or capacity of the bridges. It also includes the purchase and installation of major equipment necessary for the maintenance and operation of the bridges, such as mobile inspection platforms, emergency generators and electronic data processing systems. Facility rehabilitation projects and research studies necessary to determine the nature and scope of future facility needs are all included in the comprehensive plan.

The NYSBA operates from five locations, each with offices, locker rooms, lunch rooms, metal storage buildings and salt sheds. All facilities are equipped with air compressors, welders and lift trucks. The Authority’s fleet consists of a variety of six-wheel dump trucks with spreaders, 4x4 pickups, backhoes, loaders, skid steers, tractors and mowers. The entire fleet is owned by the Authority and is continuously maintained and updated every year. Maintenance personnel keep a close eye on hour meters rather than odometers because with its work focused on the five bridges, there’s not a lot of high mileage involved on most of the vehicles.

A River Runs Two Ways

The LenniLenape Indians migrated to the Hudson Valley in approximately 1400 AD in search of a “river that flowed two ways.” To cross it they used simple canoes, dugouts and rafts. The mission of the New York State Bridge Authority is (that imposed by the Bridge Authority Act, currently sections 525 to 540 of the New York Public Authorities Law) “To maintain and operate the vehicle crossings of the Hudson River entrusted to its jurisdiction for the economic and social benefit of the people of the state.” In a sense, the NYSBA keeps traffic flowing two ways across the Hudson thanks to the efforts of Jack Gaffney and his talented and dedicated board of commissioners, crews and management personnel.

The next time you surf the Web, you might want to take a few moments to visit www.nysba.net/index.htm and take a virtual walk across each of the Authority’s five bridges. Using a digital camera to capture views along each span, the NYSBA took a walk across its bridges, snapping pictures along the way, so you can experience the majestic beauty of the Hudson River even if you can’t leave your home or office. P

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