Saturday, January 18, 2014

Getting There From Here

John Mason has an article on today's Register-Star about the Ferry Street Bridge, the weight limit on which, as Gossips reported on Tuesday, was recently reduced from 5 tons to 3 tons: "State downgrades Ferry Street bridge." The bridge, constructed in 1909, is in the process of being sold by CSX to Amtrak, but the City of Hudson would like to own it.


  1. The RS story's references to "webs," "flanges" and "stringers" are the first time we've learned that anyone with technical knowledge has looked at the situation. Before now, our technical insights came from a single alderman's uneducated resentment.

    But I still won't believe in the existence of an engineering report until I see it with my own eyes, let alone the validity of its conclusions.

    Note the emphasis on the phrase "the state DOT," when these things are usually administered at the county level. These DOT workers may be the same alderman's new neighbors out in the county.

    It's plausible that the ex-alderman phoned his old pal so-and-so at the DOT, his second cousin's co-worker who he sees every Saturday at the Elk's Club anyway.

    "Listen, we're being disrespected by CSX just like you. What can we do about it?"

    A plan is hatched: "the state" will threaten to close the bridge, despite the appearance to an otherwise brain-dead public that the move was retaliatory after it's announced the bridge is allowed to stay open after all.

    Next the DOT makes an "offer," which it already knows will become a retaliatory tool for the city (inconvenienced boaters will become the actual retaliatory weapon). At the state's bidding, the city may reduce the tonnage and erect signs forbidding loaded boat trailers.

    By the time summer rolls around, irate boaters who've been forced to use Broad Street will assume that the story about the bridge is true, thus unleashing the kinds of demands and blame that city leaders have longed to hear. (Don't forget, the city already applied for a grant to tear it down.)

    And once the available funds "to fix and/or replace that bridge" come through, the historical considerations will simply vanish (notice that immediately following genuflection to the bridge's "historical significance," the mayor slips right back into talk of "replacing" it).

    My apologies to Eric Foster of DOT, but residents of Hudson have learned to assume that the above scenario is the likelier one, unless and until proven otherwise. (I add "until" because the DOT may yet squiggle out of our FOIL request to see an engineering report.)

    And when will any of us begin to scrutinize the following phrase, seen so often in the pages of the Register Star: "the city applied for but did not get a grant ..."

    Last year County Supervisor Thurston asked the Common Council to come up with a way for residents to easily find out which grants are being sought at any one time. Apparently her suggestion was too contrary to Hudson's traditional ways and means.

    But aside from the question whether Hudson's addiction to an unknown number of grant-attempts is even advisable, why do these applications fail? Is it because it begs questions of competence that we never learn the reasons?

    Did some of these applications fail because they were dishonestly conducted? One example that managed to be both incompetent and dishonest was the BOA Program application, which so effects the waterfront. What is the status of that program, and if it fails will the public be informed? You can bet that no one at City Hall will say a word!

    We already have these other smelly contexts as backdrop to the latest Ferry Street Bridge narrative. Next we'll find out how "the state DOT" reached its scientific but evidently equivocal conclusion.

    I'd like to know whether posting a speed limit was even considered as an alternative to inconveniencing boaters, or is manipulating public anger to good an opportunity to pass up.

  2. "[The Ferry Street Bridge] is an extremely unusual and historic structure. The bridge is firstly noted for its use of three truss lines, allowing it to provide a wider roadway, albeit with a truss in the middle. Secondly, the subdivided double-intersection Warren pony truss configuration is also unusual. Another oddity is that the end panels of this bridge are not subdivided, but all the others are. The vertical end posts are also an unusual detail in the design of this bridge. Sadly, this bridge has not been maintained. Although a highway bridge, this bridge, which crosses a railroad line, is maintained by the railroad. It would be feasible to restore for continued light vehicular use, but it remains whether to be seen whether this sensible course of action will be taken for this bridge.

    "The bridge has little beams attached to the side of a bottom chord that have been cut. This suggests the bridge once had a cantilevered sidewalk."

  3. How can the mayor or anyone else pretend to honor the Ferry Street Bridge's historic value who had anything to do with last years resolution to demolish it:

    I refer to "A Resolution Authorizing the mayor to Apply for a STEP Grant for Demolition and Replacement of the Ferry Street Bridge":

    Ayes: President Moore, Aldermen Donahue, Friedman, Haddad, Pertilla, Pierro, Ramsey and Stewart (1,476);

    Nays: Aldermen Marston and Wagoner (360) [The bracketed numbers are the tally of weighted votes].

    By September it was known that the state funded no municipality under its STEP program.

    Now all eyes were on a second grant sought by the city, the Transportation Enhancement Program or "TEP grant," for which the city's sole grant writer (no bidding process here!) remained optimistic.

    With the same anti-preservationist goals as the previous administration, Mayor Hallenbeck hoped that the TEP grant would end with "the demolished bridge [being] sold for scrap," (CC Minutes, 8/21/12).

    But what is TEP?

    The DOT describes TEP as "a federal reimbursement program .... [in] recognition that transportation systems are influenced and impacted by more than the condition of the traditional highway and bridge infrastructure, this program enables funding for transportation projects of cultural, aesthetic, historic and environmental significance."

    Based on that definition, it's a wonder anyone would attempt the goal of demolishing a historic structure through a TEP grant.

    But when the city's TEP application failed (evidently), the opportunity promised by our sole grant writer to reapply for TEP came and went last August.

    A month later, the Register Star referenced another, and a "previous grant attempt for the bridge [which] failed because it lacked detailed design and cost information," according to our same grant writer.

    Sometimes I wonder whether or not our betters in city government are just clever enough to use their apparent incompetence as an actual tool?

    In other words, is the city only serious about those grants which demolish, rather than restore, the bridge?

    Hah! just try and find out! It should surprise no one that the public has no right to learn why these grant applications fail; the Freedom of Information Law doesn't apply to the Hudson Development Corporation.

    Now all that's needed in our attempts to spotlight the incipient crookedness of this place is for the public to get involved.

    Is there anyone there? History enthusiasts? Hello? Crickets?

  4. Engineering questions aside (for the moment), why does the city want to own this bridge? What's the advantage?

    1. The city wants to control the bridge to better control the development of the waterfront.

      County government agrees, and apparently so does the DOT which threatened to close the bridge - ostensibly for safety reasons - until the city discovered an argument for keeping it open in order to inconvenience boaters. (Thus "safety" and engineering was not the DOT issue after all, or not as much as helping a municipality and county control the shared waterfront, which looks to anyone like friends helping friends. But what if they're not our friends? That's why transparency is always best, although you can forget about that in this crooked place.)

    2. I forgot the ever-constant theme of our pudding, that what passes as good governance in Hudson is more like frenetic money-grabbing.

      It doesn't really matter what the money is for as long as it's "free," and as long as we can make a convincing argument that we need it.

      We do need dependable access to the waterfront, and CSX certainly hasn't respected that.

      But as soon as the city controls the bridge, then it will be in a lot better position to get the money to build a new one (then probably name it after some official, "Bubba's Bridge," or some such). If preserving the bridge means less money, then you pay lip service to the preservationists while fully intending all the while to pursue the larger figure of building a new one.

      I accept that the effort to get state and federal funding for our needs is a component of good governance, but in Hudson it becomes a substitute.

      The next time you hear either a city official or a fellow resident describing the waterfront program as a means for releasing more grants for the city, take this as a sign that you're listening to a practitioner of the world's oldest profession.

  5. Amongst the key holders removed from North dock, a bridge painter with thirty-five years experience and two NYS bridge inspectors.
    1 Riparian

    1. And as an invidious gimmick, the bridge is now barred against the same boaters who were removed from North Dock after 125 years.

  6. So here’s the good news, I think, if Amtrak takes ownership:

    The Ferry Street Bridge is specifically identified as a contributing structure in the Hudson Multiple Resource Area (NRHP District). Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties and structures (like the bridge) and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) a reasonable opportunity to comment. As a courtesy, the input of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is typically also sought.

    Amtrak is a public corporation that was created by the federal government to ensure continued passenger rail service, much like ConRail’s creation to keep key freight lines moving on the eastern seaboard. When public works projects like this bridge are considered, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is providing key financial assistance to Amtrak, initiates review under Section 106. Comments on the compatibility of the design of proposed alterations and historically appropriate treatments are provided by the ACHP and SHPO.

    In no way am I suggesting that the federal government will always do the right thing but, in general, I think the result is usually positive.

    1. By the way Mr. Hamilton, thank you for your interest and encouragement. It is warmly received.

    2. You are welcome. Of all the communities we've been involved with, there is something addictive--contagious?--about Hudson. As a non-resident, I am mindful of my position as an outside observer and hopeful that comments are helpful, positive contributions.

    3. Great, let's get the real story on the state of the bridge then, beginning with the engineering data.

      I'm trying to line up neutral technicians to interpret the data once the public has it, after which I intend to investigate the possibility of a TEP grant to refurbish, rather than destroy, the structure.

      It's painfully obvious that residents must work hard at these things despite the continuous efforts of our politicians to dissemble in the service of destruction. Non-residents are always welcome to lend a hand to help defend history and the environment.

    4. I think the best plan in this instance is to be prepared. Get out in front of this thing before it even comes to pass. This link will take you to a relatively recent Section 106 communication between the FRA and NY SHPO regarding an Amtrak project:

      From this I glean who the players may be for an Amtrak project in Hudson, NY. In addition, I would reach out to Bill Krattinger at the SHPO office on Peebles Island. He can indicate who in their office will be involved in the Section 106 review if/when the time comes. The FRA will also seek comment from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). Who can be approached proactively there? The Preservation League of NY State is an advocacy group based in Albany that may provide additional support and direction. This all assumes that Amtrak takes ownership of the bridge, of course.

    5. Those are all good suggestions. Thank you.

      I was actually going to wait to get an engineering report on the bridge (if any) before calling Bill Kratinger. I know that he respects a well-prepared inquiry, but perhaps you're right and setting up a dialogue straightaway is the best course.

      What a great link you found to the "Hudson Yards Concrete Casing" project, especially the chapter "Historic Properties ... Determination of Effect." It's a ready-made heuristic for approaching this business with the bridge.

      In the Register Star story, I'd resented the technician's dismissive language (quoted) to the effect that a bridge with "web," "flange," and "stringer" problems was too beyond repair. Nonsense!

      I don't know anything about the stringers, but webs and flanges get damaged and repaired all the time.

      I wish someone who lived in Hudson would become as interested in this story, but I really think these people must be beyond help. They're all medicated, or something. Not full citizens at any rate.

      I do appreciate your commitment and diligence Mr. Hamilton.

  7. I agree that the best outcome is probably for Amtrak to take ownership and maintenance of the bridge, especially faced with the city's determination to destroy it (see all the Common Council "Ayes" listed above).

    In the last few years alone, two federal agencies have stepped forward to protect residents from the Common Council's designs: the US Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has stepped in several times to protect us from the City of Hudson, and NOAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have stepped in to protect us from the NYS Department of State.

    The US Attorney has advised residents to defend themselves against city officials, as have the NYS Attorney General, the state Inspector General, the Office of the State Comptroller and, especially of concern here, the NYS Historic Preservation Office.

    But concerning properties in Hudson listed in a National Register of Historic Places District, the US National Park Service has proved itself to be thoroughly treacherous.

    As we saw during the government shutdown, the National Park Service is thoroughly politicized when it comes to historic preservation. (For those who are unaware, the service tried to shut down Mount Vernon, which is a private foundation, to drive home the administration's political point, after which it stone-walled on FOIA requests.)

    The service has similarly stone-walled on a FOIA request about a federal historic district in Hudson. Fortunately where historic preservation is concerned, there's no Statute of Limitations on the federal government's failure to meet its own NEPA standards.