Thruway Authority says bridge was already on its radar
By Karen Carr Keefe
An $8.3 million project is in full swing to replace the nearly 70-year-old Beaver Island Parkway Bridge over the I-190 section of the Thruway. Since late March, crews and heavy equipment have been tearing down the old and making way for the new, while motorists who previously took Beaver Island Exit 18B have had to follow a detour to get home, to work or to businesses on the Island since April 3.
Completion of the project is expected sometime this fall, depending on the weather.
Grand Islander James Strzalkowski was an early whistleblower who brought the deteriorating condition of that bridge to public notice. He said he first became concerned about the safety of the overpass in early 2015 after moving back to Western New York from Los Angeles.
“I had seen it because I was going underneath it every day. … When I first really looked, I was shocked,” he said. “You can see the rebar, and I actually did see a rock fall one time when a car was going underneath, hitting the car. And I could have sworn some debris has hit my car at times. I just happened to look because, you know how the bridges get backed up sometimes. … I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Strzalkowski, a licensed real estate sales person, said he went to Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo and studied engineering. “I knew that that was rusting … it definitely was deteriorating badly.”
He sent photos of the bridge to Ed Drantch, morning anchor and investigative reporter for WKBW-TV Channel 7. The station was conducting an investigative series on the condition of bridges in Erie County.
WKBW contacted New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy, who, in turn wrote to the New York State Thruway Authority in October 2021, saying, “The bridge has seen significant disrepair and appears to be in poor condition,” and that it “serves as an important connector for the residents of Grand Island, and needs to be replaced.”
Kennedy is chair of the state Senate Transportation Committee.
The bridge was scheduled for replacement to begin in 2024, but Kennedy urged in his letter that the date of the work be moved up because of significant deterioration that included “cracking and falling cement, exposed rebar, chipping paint and other signs of structural weakening.”
Once the repair work began this month, Kennedy said, “After asking the Thruway to expedite its replacement project, I was pleased to see the authority prioritize these repairs and incorporate public feedback into substantial improvements.”
Strzalkowski said he is relieved the bridge replacement project is underway
“I just felt like I had a duty as somebody who really cares about Grand Island … that it needs to get done. I really am happy when I drive home at the end of the day and I see the construction,” Strzalkowski said. “That actually gives me a lot of hope and great feelings that we’re going to have a great bridge.”
Beaver Island Parkway Bridge construction is underway to address deterioration. A detour that began in late March will be in place until the conclusion of work late this year. (Photo by K&D Action Photo and Aerial Imaging)
Jennifer Givner, director of media relations for the Thruway Authority, said the bridge was already on their radar for replacement this year, and the project is progressing according to plan. She said the bridge replacement was moved up to spring 2023 after professional evaluation of its condition.
“Overall, I would say, the moving up of the project was due to our engineering assessments,” Givner said. “However, we did hear, I know, of Sen. Kennedy’s correspondence to the former Thruway executive director. I know we welcome community feedback, and certainly take that into consideration, but the decision was primarily based on engineering – professional licensed engineering – assessments.”
Givner explained, “Bridges in New York state are inspected every two years,” she said. “They are rated and determinations are made based on engineering assessments as to when replacements should commence. We have been constantly monitoring all of our structures. We have more than 815 on the New York State Thruway.”
In announcing the start of the project last month, the Thruway Authority said the old bridge , built in 1954, was not up to code. Its replacement will have wider traffic lanes, emergency shoulders, a new guiderail, new riding surface, and increased vertical clearance from 14 feet, 2 inches, to 16 feet, 9 inches.
"We're really excited about this project," Thruway Director of Government Relations Todd Gould said. "We're glad that we were able to bring it into the capital program for 2023, and we look forward to construction season."
Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney praised the investment into the town’s infrastructure, saying the bridge replacement “will directly benefit the motorists visiting the attractions on Grand Island such as Beaver Island State Park, the businesses that use our roads and bridges for economic activity, and our residents who rely on this bridge for their daily commutes and visiting friends and family.”
He noted the current inconvenience caused by the construction and detour is offset by the fact that the work will provide service for many years to come.
The bridge carries approximately 13,000 vehicles per day over the I-190, according to a news release from Gov. Kathy Hochul. Since 2018, the Thruway Authority has reinvested more than $173.1 million in capital infrastructure projects in its Buffalo division, according to the governor’s news release.
Union Concrete and Construction Corp. of West Seneca is the contractor for the project. The replacement of the Beaver Island Parkway overpass is part of a larger Thruway Authority plan to upgrade the North and South Grand Island Bridges.