MORIAH — The structurally failing Moriah Center Bridge has been reduced to a 5-ton weight limit that bars big trucks and fire engines.
The heavily used span must be closed completely for a week later this month to install a temporary bridge nearby.
The bridge on Essex County Route 7 (Plank Road) in the Moriah Center hamlet handles traffic from Interstate 87 headed to Lake Champlain and Vermont.
It was scheduled for replacement in mid-2013, but an inspection Wednesday by the State Department of Transportation found greater deterioration, and it was closed to heavy trucks Thursday.
Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said they’re working with DOT and the County Department of Public Works to keep it open to cars until a temporary Mabey bridge can be brought in.
“The bridge has been red-flagged by the DOT. We’re hopeful we can keep it open for cars. It’s the main connector to Routes 9N/22 from Interstate 87.
“The bottom line is that bridge is critical to our economy. It’s the main way for people getting off I-87 to get to the Lake Champlain region.”
Although last year’s floods didn’t do it any good, the main problem with the Moriah Center Bridge is deterioration of the steel girders that support the wooden deck, he said.
The temporary bridge will be installed next to the existing bridge, with a weight limit that allows trucks and school buses. The 40-foot-long temporary bridge is expected to cost about $70,000.
The Moriah Center Bridge has more traffic — 5,000 vehicles a day — than the new Champlain Bridge in Crown Point, Scozzafava said. The Champlain Bridge has about 4,000 cars daily.
Scozzafava said County Department of Public Works Superintendent Anthony LaVigne is working on the issue.
“Tony LaVigne has been working around the clock with the DOT inspectors. They posted it at 5 tons. That will impact trucks, businesses on both sides, fire equipment. That is the main artery in this community.”
The Moriah Center Bridge passes over Mill Brook and was built in 1920. Its permanent replacement is expected to cost about $1.7 million, with 80 percent paid by the federal Highway and Bridge Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Project, the state kicking in 15 percent, and Essex County supplying 5 percent.
Work had been slated to start in spring 2013 and take three months.
Scozzafava said they believed the bridge could stay open to all traffic until the replacement work began.
“It’s unfortunate. The County DPW, our Town Highway Department and myself are doing everything we can possibly do to maintain traffic across the bridge. But we have to make sure it’s safe. That’s the first priority.”
Truck traffic is now being routed around the bridge on Route 9N/22 to Pelfershire Road and back to County Route 7, a 10-mile detour.
Moriah Central School Superintendent William Larrow said that if school buses can’t use the bridge, it would mean longer rides for students who live on the other side.
“It would be a huge disruption to the school. We’d have to change our bus routes.”
Scozzafava said they’re working to get a temporary bridge in by September when school starts.
To put the temporary bridge in, contractors have to close the old bridge for a week, Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said.
FIRE TRUCKS BARRED
“No fire apparatus can go across the bridge now,” he said. “All fire departments were notified.”
Jaquish said they’re working on altering fire-company coverage areas now.
Moriah has three fire departments: Moriah, Port Henry and Mineville-Witherbee. Mineville-Witherbee is located on the side of town that’s cut off by the reduced weight limit on the bridge.
“Our part (of the response) is to reroute emergency traffic,” Jaquish said. “Mineville-Witherbee Fire Department will cover the north side of Moriah now.”
That’s a larger area than before, and all emergency-response times could be affected, he said.
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