City: Bridge funds hard to find

JOHNSTOWN – The estimated cost to replace the city’s two most structurally deficient bridges – including one cited by the state last spring – is $1.2 million. But a lack of federal and state aid is making it hard to replace the structures, a city official said.

City Engineer Chandra Cotter issued an internal report on city bridges to the Common Council this summer. The report, which she made public Wednesday, looked at the city’s 10 bridges, especially the two most deficient.

The most deficient bridge is the 1926 North Chase Street bridge over Hale Creek, which is estimated to cost $734,958 to replace. The state Department of Transportation red-flagged the bridge for problems in April.

The second most-deficient bridge is the 1930 Miller Street bridge over the Cayadutta Creek, which is closed. Cotter’s report said it would cost $499,169 to replace that bridge.

City Treasurer Michael Gifford said Wednesday it won’t be as easy to fix bridges as it was in recent years, when the city was able to land the bulk of its financing through federal and state aid. He said that was the case with the city’s most recent replacements of bridges on North Market and North Perry streets.

He said the city doesn’t have the extra aid to replace the North Chase Street and Miller Street bridges.

“Right now, it’s my understanding we don’t have outstanding funding for those particular bridges,” Gifford said.

He said in the past, municipalities would receive combined and federal state aid of about 90 percent or more to fix bridges. But he said budget constraints on higher government levels are hampering attempts to land such aid. He added the North Chase Street and Miller Street bridges don’t get a lot of traffic, which also hamper the ability to obtain large amounts of aid.

“We certainly don’t have an extra $1 million or $2 million in the checkbook for that,” Gifford said. “It’s very troubling.”

The $2.4 million North Perry Street bridge project – the city’s largest-ever bridge replacement project – started in spring 2012 and was finished by summer 2013. Federal Highway Administration money paid for 80 percent of the project and DOT paid 15 percent, with the city’s share being about $100,000.

Cost estimates on replacing the two most deficient bridges were provided to Cotter by the AECOM engineering firm in Latham. Costs include the actual new bridge itself, removing the existing bridge, channel work, utilities; aesthetics such as form liners, decorative railing, lights and stone facades; and the rate of inflation.

In a May 23 letter to Cotter, AECOM Engineering Services Manager Roger Laime said his firm recommends the North Chase Street bridge be load-posted for 3 tons and that “measures are installed to prevent vehicles from driving on the shoulders or sidewalks of the bridge. These measures may consist of temporary concrete barriers or traffic barrels.”

“We have reviewed the recent history regarding load posting of this bridge, and it is our opinion that given the rate of deterioration that has been occurring to the structural steel since 2006, it is likely that this bridge may need to be closed in one or two years,” Laime wrote.

Councilman-at-Large Christopher Swatt earlier this year requested an update on what it would cost to repair the two most-deficient bridges. The city’s other bridges are the 1994 West Main Street-Route 67 bridge, the 1928 Briggs Street bridge, the 2006 North Market Street bridge, the 2012 North Perry Street bridge, the 1928 Townsend Avenue bridge, the 1998 Union Avenue Extension bridge, the 1960 Washington Street bridge and the 1977 West State Street-Route 29 bridge.

The report indicated three of the city’s 10 bridges are considered “structurally deficient” – the North Chase Street bridge, Miller Street bridge and the West State Street-Route 29 bridge.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.