By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
“Yes!” with a fist pump!
Grand Island motorists are welcoming the steel installation process now underway in the bridge replacement project on the New York State Thruway overpass at Exit 18B.
The installation marks a significant point in progress toward restoration of an important commuter route carrying traffic over the I-190 and onto Beaver Island Parkway.
The work started last week with the arrival of the massive steel bars and will continue, weather permitting, said Jessica Mazurowski, public information officer with the New York State Thruway Authority. The bridge replacement project is on track to be finished by the end of the year, she confirmed.
As the steel bars went up, they lifted the spirits of commuters weary of detours and delays.
One such bottleneck has occurred at the intersection of Staley Road and Stony Point Extension, as a detour directs motorists south down Stony Point to Love or East River roads.
The Dispatch sought comments from members of the online forum Grander Ideas for Grand Islanders to gauge how commuters feel about the overpass project – the yeas and the nays.
Jenny Caruana and Patty Buczek said that, with Exit 18B closed for the overpass reconstruction, alternate routes weren’t clearly marked. Caruana said, “I wish detour signs would have been posted better. There are no signs until just past the bridge on Stony Point Extension.”
Lynn Alessi had a positive reaction to the project as a whole: “I think they have been doing a fantastic job. No accidents. No close calls. I thought it would have been completed early until they had to wait on the steel. It (completion) may still be early.”
Lauren LeFevre said, “The Baseline (waterline) pipe project happening at the same time as the overpass project was much more of an inconvenience than the overpass. The biggest negative takeaway from the overpass project: the drivers unfamiliar with the Island and going the wrong way in a one way on the Stony Point Extension. Witnessed it and quite scary.”
Ronald Wynn felt the same way about the Baseline project vs. the overpass construction: “I agree, the pipeline project was more of an inconvenience.”
Thera Lewis said, “Every morning is an inconvenience from that overpass.”
Bill Vaughn had a different take on the situation. “I may be inconvenienced once a week but am happy it is running pretty much on schedule. Unfortunately in today’s society you’re never going to please people. Some of the same people who were complaining about the condition of the bridge are the same ones that are throwing a fit over the construction.”
Christopher Benns’ comment comes from another perspective. “As a construction worker, I’ve witnessed folks get angry at us, even though we’re replacing their sidewalks, driveway aprons and curbs with new drainage underneath. Most are genuinely excited and deal with the hardship of moving vehicles, etc., but we can’t please everyone.”
Sheila Socko Ciechoski said, “Living in the Kaegebein area, we use that bridge a lot. I’m very glad it’s almost done. It looks great. I think they’re doing a great job getting it done on time. The landscaping is going to be beautiful, and I’m glad it’s fixed so I know I have a safe ride home.”
Safety also is the prime factor for Cheryl Simonick-Frailey: “I’m happy the bridge was replaced before a disaster happened!”
Jim Sniadecki agreed, “We’re lucky that it’s almost complete before it collapsed.”
Jenn Jablon Pusatier is pleased with the progress on the overpass and has more ideas on repairs and signage: “I think the town traffic has been far less than expected. Although I am compassionate to the added traffic on East Park, Red Jacket and Hennepin roads. Those residents have taken on the brunt of the detour.
“It did take me about three to four times driving from East River Road to go south, not remembering until I hit the circle that the bridge was closed.
“The project was to be completed ‘by the end of the year,’ and so I am happy with the progress. The bridge was in such disrepair, and a consistent concern of residents, that it should have been done years ago.”
Pusatier added, “I would like to see a ‘Welcome to Grand Island’ sign, some attention given to the crumbling curbs within the circle and a study as to how the engineering of the circle is working. Landscaping and lighting would only enhance that area even more.”
Jonathan Roberts, a heavy equipment operator from Grand Island, followed the overpass reconstruction with interest because he’s in the business. He said he posted some photos online of the first steel beams going up at night, thanks to the work of two construction workers from Grand Island, Henry Olrogge and Ken Fierl with Benchley Cranes. “There’s some pride to be taken there,” he said of the local crane operators.
Union Concrete and Construction Corp. of West Seneca is doing the work under contract with the Thruway Authority.
Roberts said Union Concrete does great work and they are extremely knowledgeable.
He is a member of Operating Engineers Local 17 and is employed full-time at the training center for the union’s apprenticeship program. He said he observed that the reconstruction was definitely needed. “I’ve known that it’s been in pretty rough shape for quite a number of years. People want to have good infrastructure to travel on, and yet it’s an inconvenience for everybody.”
Jeff Brzyski had a humorous way of looking at the issue: “I’m going broke, and my 3-year-old is getting fat because of it. We now have to drive past Tim Hortons – she wants her Timbits.”
The previous overpass work phase consisted of constructing concrete abutments and building up and paving the new roadway leading to and from the bridge. The Thruway Authority said the old bridge, built in 1954, had carried 13,000 vehicles per day over the I-190. The new bridge is designed to have wider traffic lanes; emergency shoulders; a new guide rail; new riding surface; and increased vertical clearance, going to 16 feet, 9 inches, from the previous 14 feet, 2 inches.
The bridge originally was targeted for replacement in 2024. The timetable was moved up to 2023, based on the Thruway Authority’s engineering assessments.
The project to replace the New York State Thruway overpass at Beaver Island Parkway got a boost toward the finish line when the steel installation started last week. (Photos by K&D Action Photo & Aerial Imaging)