January/February 2006

When crews were making their final repairs in December to the Interstate 787 access ramp to the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Albany, downstate, another bridge, the Tappan Zee, reached an important milestone, too.

The two spans (though one is technically an 87-ft. high access ramp to a bridge) are both heavily traveled. On July 27, when a section of the I-787 access ramp dropped two feet, the approximately 36,000 motorists who use the 35-year-old tangle of roads to drive between Rensselaer and Albany daily had to find alternative routes.

According to acting NYSDOT Commissioner Thomas J. Madison Jr., an unusual combination of conditions, including a bent concrete pier, faulty bearings and extreme temperature changes, caused the elevated ramp’s failure

Meanwhile, downstream, the Tappan Zee turned 50 years old on Dec. 22. Daily, it carries an average of 140,000 motorists across the Hudson between Tarrytown and Nyack. If this bridge were to be out of commission for any length of time, the commuting alternatives would not be pretty. Solutions to replace or refurbish this bridge are abundant and pricey, though a resolution must come soon as the Tappan Zee’s designers only envisioned a lifespan for the bridge at half a century. Foot-dragging and politics can not be one of those options.

Funding for highway and bridges across the country is an important, if not dire, issue. But in New York State, it’s a bit more serious. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” 38 percent of New York’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Just as bad, The Road Information Program (or TRIP) ranks the state 47th for cost-effectiveness for highway and bridge spending.

Gov. Pataki had hoped to refinance state transportation bonds through the Thruway Authority, but that plan was recently nixed by New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, saying that it would increase future debt payments for taxpayers.

I wonder how much money taxpayers in Albany lost in fuel costs and missed work time due to I-787’s recent unavailability. And I wonder how much money taxpayers and businesses would lose if the Tappan Zee failed. It’s clear that this is a pay now or pay (or lose more) later proposition, but as a taxpayer, I don’t have to run for re-election.

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