Elected officials called out to the New York State Transportation Department to expedite the process of funding a partial rebuild of the Forge Hill Bridge in the Town of New Windsor on Thursday, which has been closed from storm damage since Tropical Storm Irene hit almost exactly one year ago.
The designing and rebuilding of the bridge, which includes adding abutments to the road surface, is expected to take about two years and cost roughly $2 million, which will be 80 percent funded by the Federal Highway Administration, and 20 percent by Orange County.
Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-19) was among the officials gathered atop the bridge Thursday to deliver the message to the NYSDOT. She complained that the process was getting in the way of serving the people.
"The reason it's not repaired is because of red tape”, said Hayworth, who co-chairs the Hurricane Irene Coalition in the House of Representatives. “$90 million worth of federal funds [from the FHWA] were provided for New York, for roads and bridge to be repaired. Obviously I am not happy on behalf of the constituents I serve that more than a year later this existing bridge is not repaired. Red tape from the state and federal level is holding it up."
Orange County Executive Edward Diana said it was unacceptable that it could take as much as two years for the bridge to be drivable again, especially given that it was repaired less than 15 years ago with federal assistance. He said a signed agreement with the state on shortening the process to 11 months was being handed in to the regional office in Poughkeepsie later in the day.
Orange County DPW Commissioner Charles Lee said the FHWA is still requiring numerous reviews done at the site despite having studies from its recent repair, primarily causing the bottleneck. He said they had a meeting Wednesday with highway officials on abbreviating the repair, according to a consultant's estimate.
"[The state and local agreement] puts the funds in place. In a week or so I expect a letter that will let me hire the consultant," said Lee. He said they would have to work within their right-of-way, for any work done up- or downstream could extend the procedure as long as six months.
The traffic constraints placed on the Town of New Windsor have resulted in dangerous intersections and extended delays. Residents have circulated a petition calling for a temporary traffic light to be installed on Caesar's Lane, as a driver could be stuck for as long as 10 minutes waiting to make a left turn during peak traffic hours. The DOT has not responded to this request either, according to Town Supervisor George Green, resulting in uncontrolled intersections.
"We're seeing an increase in accidents. The traffic on 94 just through population growth has become tremendous, and now with the added burden of no bridge here and not being able to use Forge Hill Road, it has become a terrible situation," said Green.
The waters of the Moodna Creek under the bridge flowed as high as the structure itself, flooding out the nearby street of Butternut Drive and destabilizing the embankment so much that one house overlooking the creek, 345 Butternut Drive, was evacuated and slated for demolition.