ELIZABETHTOWN — A red-flagged bridge in Moriah Center will likely be repaired before school starts.
But Essex County supervisors voted to withdraw pursuit of a $1.5 million transportation grant for new buses until they know what next year’s budget numbers look like.
Essex County Department of Public Works Superintendent Anthony LaVigne said the bridge at Moriah Center was the only one of four that didn’t collapse in flooding last year.
But steel beneath the structure is failing.
“It is the busiest bridge I have in inventory,” he told supervisors Monday.
The Moriah Center span was red-flagged by the state Department of Transportation on Aug. 1, forcing county officials to set a 5-ton weight limit, which means — in addition to delivery trucks, fire trucks, ambulances and county highway vehicles — school buses can’t cross it.
“I need to get that bridge open to all traffic,” LaVigne said, citing public safety.
A single-lane temporary bridge would not work at that junction, he explained to supervisors, because the Moriah Center bridge connects traffic at a six-road intersection.
SEVEN STEEL BEAMS
County engineers put together an emergency repair project that would cost just under $70,000 using four steel beams they have in stock plus three others available from a local contractor.
“I would like to get this bridge open before school starts,” LaVigne said.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) introduced a resolution granting DPW permission to make the emergency purchases and go ahead with repairs.
The full board approved the motion without dissent.
LaVigne said the bridge — installed in 1920 — is scheduled for replacement next summer; and design plans for the new $1.7 million structure are at DOT headquarters for approval. Essex County will pay 5 percent of that, sharing costs with state and federal transportation agencies.
Scozzafava said the current 5-ton weight limit means delivery trucks cannot get to northern sections of Moriah from Port Henry, forcing traffic 10 miles around the bridge intersection. Between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day.
LaVigne did not announce a final schedule for the work.
But County Manager Dan Palmer said the project will begin in time to be finished before school starts.
LaVigne told supervisors would take three to six days to repair the steel girders and another five days to repair the deck and roadway, meaning the bridge would be closed for nearly two weeks.
NO GO FOR BUSES
At the same meeting on Monday, supervisors voted down a motion to proceed with a $1.5 million federal transportation grant that would buy five new public buses.
The county’s share — with contributions of $70,000 from the Olympic Regional Development Authority and the Village of Lake Placid — would have been $100,000.
Supervisors want to wait until 2013 budget numbers are firm before committing to spending money on transportation infrastructure.
To get more detailed ridership numbers, they suggested County Transportation Director Nancy Dougal have people sign in when they ride a bus.
The grant request passed the Ways and Means Committee last week with a 13-4 vote.
Dougal has developed five bus routes throughout Essex County, including a new Cascade Express that travels from Elizabethtown to Keene to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, leaving Elizabethtown at 5:45 and 7:49 a.m., as well as 4:10 p.m. daily, with return trips from Saranac Lake at 6:45 a.m. and 2:50 and 5:05 p.m.
The Cascade route opened on Aug. 1.
‘BRUTAL BUDGET YEAR’
Supervisors appeared hesitant to make any transportation-spending commitment without considering the full county budget.
“If we make a decision on this today, it might be the wrong decision,” Supervisor Dan Connell (D-Westport) explained.
“We’re going to be in another brutal budget year here shortly,” said Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington).
Palmer warned supervisors that this type of federal transportation grant is set aside for rural, underserved areas.
But they are built off existing transportation numbers.
“You don’t want to assume that we can throw out these low (use) routes and that the government grants will remain available,” Palmer said.
Scozzafava suggested some funding for public buses should be come from bed-tax revenue.
County Board Chairman Randy Douglas (D-Jay) asked Dougal to keep supervisors apprised of any additional resources that might offset the county’s share of the $1.5 million federal grant.
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