A report issued Tuesday by the New York State Comptroller's Office indicates 52 bridges within Erie County, owned by either the county or a municipal government, are "structurally deficient." The report also suggests it would cost $27.4 billion to fix local government-owned spans statewide.
The State Comptroller's report does not specifically identify what bridges are county or municipally owned. Erie County's Department of Public Works told WBFO 31 of their bridges fall under the category of "structurally deficient." By the report's definition, the spans may still be safe to cross but their load-bearing components are in poor condition or the bridge is prone to frequent flooding.
Charlie Sickler, the county's deputy commissioner of public works, says bridges are inspected every two years but those in noticeable decline are checked once a year. A point rating system is used to determine their quality.
"An inspection rating goes out three decimal points," Sickler explained. "It might be a 2.987 rating. We can take care of our worst spans based on their condition rating. Then we look at traffic count. The bridges that have the highest traffic with the lowest rating move to the top of our list."
No county or local government has enough money in place to address all bridge repair needs at once. George Spanos, who is director of Chautauqua County's Department of Public Facilities and also president of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association, says New York State has two funding sources from which local governments can tap in. One is the BridgeNY program, which makes $200 million available for additional assistance to local governments over the next two years.
"It will not materialize for another three or four years, because you have to go through the design process and the construction process," Spanos said.
The Highway Superintendents Association, he explained, has been lobbying the state government to make more money available through its older infrastructure program, the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, or CHIPS. Local governments, he explained to WBFO, have more flexibility with CHIPS money.
Then there's the question of federal funding. Before taking office, President Donald Trump hinted of an ambitious trillion-dollar infrastructure overhaul across the nation, a plan that won early bipartisan praise.
Spanos noted that the Trump idea would include private-public partnerships that, as he believes, would not be applicable to many local needs.
The Comptroller's report also states that 76 percent of New York City's bridges are "functionally obsolete," meaning while they are structurally sound, have inadequate land or shoulder widths or other obstacles that work against the volume of traffic.
The report did offer one positive trend. Overall, the percentage of local government-owned bridges deemed "structurally deficient" has declined since 2002, from nearly 17 percent to just under 13 percent.