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Concerns continue to surround structural integrity of South Grand Island Bridges

By Brayton J Wilson,

19 days ago

Grand Island, N.Y. (WBEN) - In light of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland nearly a week ago Tuesday, it has already brought about more awareness with the infrastructure of bridges across the country, and locally in Western New York.

Some of the more prominent bridges in the Western New York region are the Grand Island bridges that connect the island to the mainland in Tonawanda to the South and Niagara Falls to the North.

However, there are some prevalent concerns from Grand Island residents surrounding the structural integrity of the bridges, especially the South Grand Island Bridges, based on a 2020 report conducted by the New York State Thruway Authority.

According to the report, the Thruway Authority identified numerous critical bridge condition issues, including 5,653 linear feet of "poor" and 31 linear feet of "severe" condition-related steel elements, 195 fracture-critical steel gusset plates rated in "poor" condition, and more. The report also noted the "Failure of one component of a fracture-critical primary support system can result in bridge closure of a catastrophic collapse."
Photo credit New York State Thruway Authority

This report raised several red flags for CJ Rayhill, who serves as President of CRED4GI (Coalition for Responsible Economic Development for Grand Island), along with other residents of Grand Island who rely on the bridges to get to-and-from the Island on a daily basis.

Rayhill says this 2020 report was the last time a detailed State of Repair examination report was published on the South Grand Island Bridges.

"Some of the members on these structures are similar in design to the I-35 Mississippi River bridge that collapsed in Minnesota in August of 2007. The report also goes on to say that if these repairs are not done in the next three years, and mind you this was 2020, the bridge will definitely be falling into poor condition," said Rayhill in an interview with WBEN. "We have had no repairs done on that South Grand Island Bridge, one of which was constructed in 1935, so we're going on 89-years-old now, and the other in 1962, which is 62-years-old."

The CRED4GI coalition was formed back in 2021 in light of the proposal to build a 4.2 million square-foot Amazon warehouse on Grand Island. Rayhill says the goal of the coalition is to educate and inform residents about development efforts on Grand Island and their impacts, and make sure that locally elected officials follow the appropriate zoning laws.

When it comes to the Grand Island bridges, Rayhill says residents rely on these bridges daily, and it's important to bring up any issues that could lead to even bigger problems down the road.

"If you have a heart attack or something, there's no place on the Island to take care of you. And these are our lifelines to the mainland, so we are very sensitive to the condition of these bridges, and are very concerned that nothing has happened in regards to this report, and repairs up until this point," she said.

Rayhill says the call for action with the South Grand Island Bridges actually started when the coalition started its fight against the Amazon warehouse 2-3 years ago. The report had been passed along then to local representatives, and the coalition has recently re-approached one of the new elected officials to try and bring light on it.

"Recently, we had the Beaver Island Overpass reconstructed, so that's been basically down for about a year. Those were, I believe, constructed in 1936, and they weren't going to repair that until a lot of pressure was brought to bear on prioritizing that, because of the deteriorating state of that overpass. We feel the same thing is happening with the South Grand Island Bridges, and they really need to escalate the priority of the repairs of these bridges," Rayhill said.

When reaching out to the Thruway Authority for comment on the Grand Island bridges, one spokesperson says all of the Thruway’s bridges, including the North and South Grand Island Bridges, are part of its bi-annual inspection program and are inspected, at least, every two years.

To add, the Thruway started a $67.71 million multi-year project on both the North and South Grand Island Bridges in 2023, which includes structural steel repairs and safety enhancements to all four bridge structures. It is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

Rayhill says none of that information has been made available to not just the coalition, but also the elected officials of Grand Island.

"When major work goes on with those bridges, believe me, we as residents of Grand Island know, because the traffic backs up all the way. Even when there's one lane closure on one bridge, we see a lot of that," Rayhill noted. "Now, we have seen some work done to some of the sides of the bridges, but we're talking about main structural work that needs to be done here, which you would think would inhibit traffic in some way, shape, or form. We haven't seen any of that, and our elected officials tell me that they have not heard about the status of these repairs."

So what would Rayhill and the CRED4GI coalition like to see addressed with both the North and South Grand Island Bridges? It starts with the repairs that were outlined in the Thruway Authority's 2020 report.

"I'd like to see a status of that, a communication, and certainly, I would think the New York State [Thruway] Authority should be communicating with our local officials, and therefore communicating with our community about the status of these repairs, and what kind of impact it might have, in terms of lane closures or bridge closures ahead, especially, of the peak summer season here," Rayhill said.

In Baltimore, after the cargo ship rammed into one of the support columns of the Key Bridge, forcing its collapse into the Patapsco River, some engineers and bridge designers questioned the structural integrity of the bridge . This includes the presence of protective barriers like support piers.

However, Rayhill doesn't believe that the Grand Island bridges need that kind of support measures going forward.

"We haven't seen that kind of shipping traffic go under our bridges for decades. There might be one once in a while, but not really," she said. "I would think the main concern is more on the trusses themselves, and the critical juncture points of that bridge. I grew up on the Island, I used to climb on those bridges, I used to jump off the piers on the bottom when I was a kid. Even then, you could see a lot of deterioration going on underneath those bridges. So I think the major concern for us is actually the structural integrity of the bridge itself, so that we don't have a collapse similar to that that happened on I-35 in the Mississippi River."

For more on the coalition's initiatives and message, feel free to check out their website:

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