County asked to leave one lane open on Copake Falls bridge

COPAKE FALLS—It may be a little bridge, but replacing it is going to be a big deal.

The bridge over the Bash Bish Brook on Valley View Road is just a stone’s throw off of Route 344 headed east through the hamlet. It’s an old steel grate bridge and county officials have been talking about replacing it for several years. The bridge’s weight limit has been reduced to eight tons, which prevents all but small utility fire apparatus from traveling over it.

To close the bridge down completely or leave one lane open during the replacement process is now the $2.2 million question.

Columbia County is moving forward with the bridge replacement project and will put it out for bid shortly, according to County Commissioner of Public Works Ray Jurkowski, PE, who recently convened a virtual meeting with stakeholders to discuss recent cost overruns and alternative ways to approach the project.

The Valley View, a/k/a, Bash Bish Bridge is in line for replacement soon. Photo by Diane Valden

In an email message about the meeting, Mr. Jurkowski wrote, “Costs escalations due to material pricing, and supply chain issues continue to impact us all and especially on all construction activities.

“Currently, the most recent engineer’s estimate for the project is approximately $2.2M. This is much greater than the original estimated funding amount of $1.15M allocated by the State.” Mr. Jurkowski wrote that the county has been in discussion with the design engineer, about “where significant savings could be realized.”
Since the project’s inception, back when the late Dean Knox was the public works engineering division director, it has been “presented that the bridge would be constructed in two phases and at least one lane of traffic would remain open on the bridge at all times.”

But the county’s consultant, now says “this methodology will add approximately $300,000 to the overall construction cost of the project and adds approximately 2 to 3 months to the construction schedule.”

Mr. Jurkowski wanted to meet with town representatives and other stakeholders “to discuss the potential of closing the roadway and providing an off-site detour during the construction period. This would result in significant cost savings on the project and to the county. The total estimated construction period would also potentially be reduced from eight to nine months down to six months.”

Among those to speak at the April 21 virtual meeting was Taconic State Park Manager Christopher Rickard, who told The Columbia Paper by phone this week, that closing the bridge entirely “would be like severing the head from the rest of the park.”

The main Taconic State Park facility, the office, the swimming, picnicking, play and camping areas are on the northeast side of the bridge and the park’s maintenance shop and six patron cottages are on the southeast side.

Mr. Rickard explained that his 6 to 8 member staff (10 to 12 staff in the summer) reports to the maintenance shop at the start of their shift. If the bridge is closed, they will need to get there via Weed Mine Road off Route 22 and then Valley View Road. They must then pickup what ever equipment they need to do their work at the main park, which will require them to then again travel on Valley View Road, to Weed Mine Road, out to Route 22, head north to Route 344 and get to the main park entrance. The detour is five miles one way, with some of it on a treacherous one-lane section of Valley View. Additionally concerning is that a section of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail runs right on Valley View Road, so rail trail users on bicycle or foot will also be using this narrow stretch of road and park patrons who rent the park cottages will also have to use this detour to get to and from their cabins multiple times a day. They will no longer be able to get to the main park to swim or use the facilities or go to the Depot Deli or bike shop in the hamlet on foot. They will have to drive/walk/bike the five miles around. The park manager said the renters of each cabin are allowed two vehicles onsite and can apply for a permit for three vehicles.

Mr. Rickard estimates the bridge closure will create the need for additional 75 vehicle trips on Valley View per day. Because only one vehicle can pass on part of the narrow dirt road, with deep ditches on both sides, he said that a signal light has been suggested to prevent the need for one vehicle to back up should two vehicles meet on that stretch of road.

Even if that occurred, the cottages may have to be shuttered for half a fiscal year if the bridge is closed. He said he hoped that would not be during peak season, still he noted, project delays are always possible and unexpected.

By phone this week, Copake Deputy Fire Chief Randi Shadic voiced similar concerns. He said that because typical fire trucks can range in weight from 12 to 30 tons, the fire company has not been able to use the bridge for some number of years and has had an alternate plan in place, which, of course, involves traveling on narrow Valley View Road to get to emergency calls on the southeast side of the bridge, including High Valley Road. He said that plan entails having fire police go out ahead of the fire apparatus to close off Valley View Road at both ends, so trucks can get through without encountering oncoming vehicles. If the bridge is closed that plan would no longer work. He also agreed with Mr. Rickard with regard to all the additional traffic, noting that all the cottage renters, who are tourists and travel in and out all day, will dramatically increase a fire truck’s chances of encountering traffic on that road—preventing the emergency vehicle from continuing on and reaching those in need.

Mr. Shadic said it would be his recommendation to keep one lane of the bridge open so essential firefighting operations can continue as they do now.

In an April 26 letter to Mr. Jurkowski, High Valley Road resident Deborah Cohen wrote about three particularly dangerous stretches of Valley View Road, “which would become even more unsafe with detoured traffic.

“Those of us who regularly travel Valley View Road know to be especially cautious at those three dangerous stretches. For those who would have to use the unfamiliar detour, one can only imagine the increased possibility for serious accidents.”

“Time is of the essence in any ambulance call.” If the bridge was closed, she noted that, “the difference a 10-minute delay (or longer) would make for someone suffering a heart attack, allergic reaction or injuries from a serious accident, could truly be a matter of life or death.”

She referred to a comment made by her neighbor, who said, “just one serious accident, or God forbid, a fatality, would make the county’s decision to save $300,000 on a $2.2 million project foolhardy at best, profoundly negligent at worst.”

She thanked Mr. Jurkowski “for doing everything in your power to find $300,000, just as you have found the additional $1.1 million to cover the rest of the increased project cost.”

Copake Supervisor Jeanne Mettler said she has urged her colleagues at the county level to “figure out how to do the bridge replacement without closing the bridge. It’s not just a matter of convenience but a matter of public safety.”

The Town Board is expected to discuss the matter at its next meeting, Thursday, May 12 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

NOTE: At the May 12 Copake Town Board meeting it was announced by Supervisor Mettler that the decision had been made to leave one lane of the bridge open during construction.

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