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Towns and villages join county push for better canal bridges

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – The lift bridge in Knowlesville is limited to one lane and a 6-ton weight limit. It is among several in the county that aren’t equipped to handle heavier traffic.

Orleans County officials thought their push for more state resources for canal bridges would get more attention if town and village leaders are joined the rallying cry.

The towns and villages are responding, and passing resolutions asking for more state funds to keep up the bridges. There are 25 state-owned canal bridges in the county, including seven lift bridges. (The village of Medina owns the Glenwood Avenue bridge.)

Twelve of the 26 bridges have been declared “functionally obsolete.” Another six are considered “structurally deficient” by the state Department of Transportation.

Two are closed – Brown Street in Albion and Hindsburg Road in Murray. The Knowlesville lift bridge is limited to one lane and 6 tons. Other bridges have reduced weight limits below 10 tons, including Transit Road in Albion at 9 tons, Allens Bridge Road in Albion at 7 tons, Presbyterian Road in Albion at 5 tons, and Groth Road at 9 tons in Murray.

The county has a report about the bridge conditions at orleansny.com. It used state DOT data from bridge inspections to create the report.

Most of the bridges are about 100 years old. They were installed when the canal was widened in 1909 to 1914.

The County Legislature has passed two recent resolutions seeking more state attention for the bridges. The first resolution expressed the Legislature’s growing concerns about the limited access due to closed bridges or reduced weight limits.

That forces longer trips for school buses, fire trucks, tractor trailers and big farm equipment, hindering public safety and commerce in the county, legislators said.

The Beals Road bridge in Ridgeway is pictured during the winter. The bridge is one of 12 of the 26 canal bridges in the county declared as functionally obsolete by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Town Boards at Barre, Clarendon, Murray, Ridgeway and Shelby all have passed resolutions stating their concern about the limited access with the bridges. The Medina Village Board also joined the effort with a formal resolution on Monday.

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier said the issue is particularly hard on villages that have several of the canal bridges. The village would like to see the governor and state develop a bridge plan to better maintain the spans over the historic waterway.

“Hopefully the governor pays some attention,” said Mark Irwin, a village trustee.

The Legislature also passed a resolution in March calling on the state to not raid a fund that was supposed to be dedicated for road and bridge work. If that fund wasn’t diverted for other purposes, county legislators said there would be more state resources for infrastructure.

Residents and taxpayers pay billions in taxes and fees into the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund. They pay through highway taxes, motor vehicle taxes and fees, petroleum business taxes and other fees. However, county legislators said more than 75 percent of the funds or $1.6 billion was diverted to other agencies in the last state fiscal year.

The County Legislature passed a resolution urging the governor and State Legislature to develop a multi-year plan for the fund to meet the infrastructure needs for bridges and roads in the state.

The towns of Clarendon and Shelby have passed formal resolutions supporting the issue.