Gillibrand wants more federal dollars for local bridge projects

Staff Reports Posted 2 June 2015 at 12:00 am

File photo by Tom Rivers – The Brown Street bridge in Albion was closed on July 18, 2012 by the state Department of Transportation after an inspection showed serious deterioration of major elements of the steel truss floor system. There is no timetable for the bridge to be fixed.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With more than a third of the bridges in New York State in need of repair, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand today announced a new measure that will give states the authority to use more federal funds on local bridge improvement projects.

While 50 percent of New York’s 17,000 bridges are locally-owned, federal policy limits the amount of federal transportation funds that states can use to repair those bridges.

Gillibrand’s proposal will make local bridge projects eligible for federal funding through the National Highway Performance Program, allowing states greater flexibility to invest in bridge improvement and repair projects. More than a third of New York’s bridges are graded as either “functionally obsolete,” meaning they cannot handle current traffic demand, or “structurally deficient,” meaning they require significant maintenance to remain in service and will eventually require a total rehabilitation.

In Orleans County, there are 138 bridges and 26 are structurally deficient and 28 are functionally obsolete, according to the state Department of Transportation data.

Gillibrand will introduce the bridge measure as an amendment to the transportation reauthorization bill currently before the Environmental and Public Works Committee, of which she is a member.

“As hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers get ready to take to the roads for summer vacations, more than a third of our state’s bridges are in need of repair but bureaucratic federal policy actually prevents our local governments from investing in their repair,” she said. “My amendment will finally give states the flexibility to spend federal transportation dollars where they’re needed most, including thousands of locally-owned bridges across the state. This is among my priorities for the federal transportation spending bill we’ll pass this year, and I will continue to fight to ensure that New York receives the resources it needs to maintain and improve our critical infrastructure.”

In 2012, a program that provided direct funding to states and local governments to invest in bridge construction and repair was eliminated as a part of a larger transportation funding bill.

Gillibrand’s amendment would redirect existing dollars to restore bridge funding and ensure that local governments have the flexibility to determine which projects receive investment.

According to the state DOT, more than one-third of New York State’s 17,000 bridges are in need of repair, with 2,016 graded as structurally deficient and 4,735 graded as functionally obsolete.

These designations do not imply that the bridges are unsafe, but rather that they can no longer handle the traffic for which they were designed or are in need of extensive rehabilitation. In order to remain in service, structurally deficient bridges are often posted with weight limits.

In Western New York, there are a total of 2,743 bridges and of these, 229 are structurally deficient bridges and 465 are functionally obsolete bridges, according to Gillibrand’s office.