Monday, March 14, 2016

In Pursuit of a Bridge

The Ferry Street Bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since early October 2014, when, the question of who owned the bridge still not definitively answered, the City closed the roadway leading up to the bridge. Seven months later, in May 2015, the New York State Department of Transportation, after its annual inspection, ordered the bridge itself closed. Three months after that, in August 2015, city attorney Carl G. Whitbeck determined that the City of Hudson owned the bridge and hence was responsible for replacing it.

Last Thursday, on her seventieth day in office, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton convened a meeting that brought together officials from all levels of government and the recently formed Ferry Street Bridge Working Group. Present were Bill Gustafson, representing Assemblymember Didi Barrett; Jeffrey Cleary, representing State Senator Kathy Marchione; Steve Mann, representing Senator Charles Schumer; David Connors, representing Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; Tom Weiner, from the NYS Department of Transportation; Mike Tucker, from the Columbia Economic Development Corporation; Ken Flood, Columbia County commissioner for planning & economic development; Alan Neumann, president of Historic Hudson; and Anthony Duchessi, of TGW Consulting. Also present were all the members of the Ferry Street Working Group: Mayor Hamilton, mayor's aide Lisa Walsh, city treasurer Heather Campbell, DPW superintendent Rob Perry, HDC executive director Sheena Salvino, First Ward alderman Rick Rector, Third Ward supervisor Don Moore, Fourth Ward supervisor Bill Hughes, and First Ward resident Carole Osterink.

After an opening statement by the mayor, in which she said that she hoped "all of our different offices can work together to find the money for the bridge replacement," Perry spoke about the proposals made by the engineering firm Creighton Manning in their report on the bridge, commissioned by the City last year. The recommended course of action, which will cost an estimated $2.1 million, involves removing the existing bridge and replacing it with a precast concrete bridge. Echoing what he said about the ramp proposed for Promenade Hill, Perry said of the proposed bridge, "It's not a pretty bridge. It's a bridge to get vehicles across the railroad tracks."

Neumann shared his experience getting federal funding for an overpass at the waterfront in Rhinecliff. Money for that project came from the Intermodel Surface Transportation Enhancement Act of 1991 (ISTEA), called by George H. W. Bush, who was president at the time, "the most important transportation bill since President Eisenhower started the Interstate System." Sadly, that was then, and this is now. No such source of federal money is available today.

As the discussion continued, it became clear that the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere" has negatively impacted Hudson's ability to get federal funding for its little bridge to somewhere--the waterfront. In the process of getting rid of bad and corrupt earmarks, all earmarks have been eliminated. "Had this been twelve years ago, fifteen years ago," said Connors, "your Congressional delegation could have earmarked it." Cleary added that member items, at the state level, are also a thing of the past.

It was explained that federal money for transportation comes to the state and is distributed by a formula to the region and then, again by formula, to the county. Moore raised the question of whether the county could spend any of its allotted money on a bridge in Hudson, saying that it was "an informed view" that it could not. Hughes pointed out that the county has a prioritized list of bridges in need of repair, and the Ferry Street Bridge has never been on it. The unfortunate observation was made that even if we had the money now from this source, it would be three years before construction of the bridge could begin.

Tucker recalled the $2.2 million that was granted in 2011 by the Capital Region Economic Development Council to the transloading rail facility that never happened, intimating that that money might be repurposed for the Ferry Street Bridge. Neumann suggested there might be "a whole other pot of money for waterfront access." Cleary spoke of proposed state funding--$200 million a year--in what is being called the Bridge NY program. He noted that it wouldn't be known if these funds will actually be available until the state budget was passed, but he urged the mayor to write letters and the Common Council to pass a resolution. Moore pointed out that the City, in its 2016 budget, had established a $600,000 capital reserve fund for the Ferry Street Bridge, demonstrating its commitment and its recognition of the bridge project as a high priority.

Throughout the discussion, the bridge's importance both for safety and for the economic development were recurrent themes. The mayor concluded that the working group would pursue both avenues.


  1. Was Congressman Gibson invited? It's incredible that his office shouldn't have participated. (Did Gossips merely forget to list the Congressman?)

    Procedurally, all Federal spending goes through the House first, so it almost makes more sense to have a Congressman present than a Senator, let alone two Senators.

    1. No, Gossips did not merely forget to list him. You will have to address your question to the mayor's office.

    2. Rather than doubting Gossips, I was being politic.

      The Congressman should have been there, even if all he does in the end is hand the case to the next Congressman.

      If someone is actually contemplating a Ferry Street bridge of poured concrete, then we finally need to ask, what's the hurry?

      In a few years, the whole political and economic landscape will have changed, but we'll be stuck with something hideous forever.

      Is anyone considering aesthetics? If the answer is finally yes, that would be a first in the saga of the bridge.

      Also, who is the cause of the hurry? Well, notice that some of the same people who've been handling the bridge issue for years are still involved.

      The next thing you know, we'll see these same individuals attempting to revive THEIR failed waterfront program.

      Until we know better, the public is wise to remain skeptical.

  2. That cement bridge in the photo is wicked ugly. Looks like the godawful 1960's buildings on my state college campus. We can do better.

  3. one of the problems here is that there is waterfront access by just driving down the road and around the tracks. is that so difficult ? what are we doing, saving two minutes for 2 million dollars ?

    the solution proposed is so ugly and expensive that its pointless to even consider it.

    1. J Kay -- there are 2 issues with the Water Street grade crossing that should be borne in mind. First, it's a grade crossing and they are inherently more dangerous than non-grade crossings. Additionally, there is a pattern on the part of CSX (which, I believe, owns the rails) to do away with grade crossings -- which is supported by the increased danger involved with them. Second, the grade crossing at Water Street is blocked by southbound trains when they stop at the station. This means that no traffic can cross for the 5 or so minutes that the trains sit there, including emergency traffic. These are the primary reasons the City wants to replace the Ferry Street bridge.

    2. If CSX desires to close the Broad Street crossing, it can help pay for a new bridge or it can go suck an egg.

      In a 2013 letter from Amtrak's General Counsel and Solicitor General to the Regional Structures Management Engineer of the NYSDOT, Amtrak rejected the claim that it should be "responsible for the maintenance" of the State's public highway bridges (to quote the DOT).

      "Amtrak is not required to, nor will it, maintain the public highway bridges [of New York state]."

      Along with dozens of municipalities in New York, we owe nothing to Amtrak, and should instead reciprocate Amtrak's attitude in kind.

      Please explain why the hopes and dreams of Amtrak are suddenly a crisis for the City of Hudson, or any other municipality in the same boat we're in?

  4. What's the problem with a precast concrete bridge? The existing bridge isn't exactly a beauty. Any bridge at this location is merely a very short utilitarian extension of the roadway. Better it be innocuous than something to aesthetically argue about... just get it done.

    1. Any object at any location is merely utilitarian for the utilitarian; "just get it done" is the oft-heard maxim.

  5. To review, following are the professed reasons for accepting the first hideous bridge design to come along (no offense to the poured concrete crowd):

    1) Congress may not be willing to pay for it (it's a good thing then that the Congressman wasn't present at last Thursday's meeting);

    2) CSX/Amtrak will really, really appreciate it;

    3) Someone discovered that a train crossing that's been in existence for 165 years may be dangerous;

    4) Stopped southbound trains block access to the waterfront in the event of emergencies.

    When I asked the stationmaster the average dwell time for southbound trains taking on passengers, he answered "No more than two minutes."

    So, two minutes for a hypothetical emergency when we're about to place the HPD on the other side of an active freight line. Nothing hypothetical there.

    In the City Code at §228-1, "Blocking of Streets Prohibited," trains may legally block 7th Street for up to five minutes.

    When I asked the Police Chief if he thought the freight trains would be a problem he said no, and I have no reason to doubt him.

    But when Broad Street is blocked for two minutes, suddenly we're faced with a serious crisis. What if, what if ...

    Something else is driving this crisis; politics and egos are driving the bridge story. We'll end up with an ugly bridge because of politics and egos.

    1. Tim, as usual, you're so incensed that others come to conclusions different from your own that you leap from one logical inconsistency to another:

      * Rails and the roads they comprise are purely within the brief of the federal government. It is irrelevant what the City wants or would like -- much as it is, from the City's point of view, what either the road or the carrier would find convenient or otherwise. If CSX decides to shut the grade crossing who's to stop them except a court? A long, expensive, energy-sapping procedure that the City can't afford. If it is closed, and the bridge isn't replaced, then the waterfront is done for mass gatherings as no emergency services could reach it.

      * The danger of grade crossings hasn't been recently discovered, just recently underscored (in Westchester County I believe). And, as in the above, the importance of the relative safety of the crossing is germaine for our purposes due to its use as the basis for closing the crossing.

      * The placement of the HPD HQ isn't on the "other side of the track" for many of my constituents in the 3rd Ward nor our neighbors in the 5th. Your egocentric geography notwithstanding, I voted to move it to its new home simply to piss you off.

    2. The same old incompetence is back on the job, reintroducing the same bad ideas but with new urgency. It's not the conclusions themselves that bother me, but the old wine served in new bottles. (I hasten to point out that neither of us serves on the bridge working group.)

      As to your above:

      1) Provide even one example where a closing by CSX totally barred access to a City's waterfront, a closing which was either outside some previous contract or - when the story was said and done - in which the Federal government failed to fund the alternative access. You're selling a fake crisis on imaginary "what ifs." I wager we'll gain plenty of insight into the back story for this crisis when we learn why Congressman Gibson wasn't present. This bridge story is only partly about the bridge, as betrayed by your flimsy arguments.

      2) Let's be site specific, and find out how many casualties have occurred in 165 years specifically at the Broad Street crossing and as a consequence of crossing actions alone? That's the statistic which needs underscoring, and not whatever happened in Westchester. Beware of the circular logic of lawyers bent on legislating away all of life's dangers.

      3) Ask the HPD where most of the crime is located, and on that basis decide what constitutes "the other side of the tracks." You totally missed the point though, which was that 5 minutes is not too long to wait in actual police emergencies (a point with which you implicitly agreed by supporting the proposal), but waiting 2 minutes at Broad Street is too long for you to wait for your hypothetical emergencies. I'd call that an actual example of "logical inconsistency," as distinct from baseless name-calling.

      4) The dwell train for stopped Amtrak trains is no more than two minutes, and not "5 or so minutes" as you claimed above. You didn't get that number from Amtrak, as I did, so where did you get that number?

      What makes people incensed is when officials make s**t up to get their own way.

    3. Sorry, I meant to say the "dwell time" of stopped Amtrak trains is two minutes.

    4. Way outside the box...two covered wooden bridges with a shoreline boardwalk to connect Basilica to Kite's Nest.

  6. Forty foot pressure treated laminated beams, with a roof to block sun and snow, would span for 100 years and cost a lot less.

    1. The Ferry Street Working Group should consider every proposal.

      Then again, this is Hudson, where past is prologue. This means that the burden is on the members of each and every "working group" to show that they're not behaving exclusively by shutting out the public.

      Now look at the members of the bridge group and weep. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  7. Since everyone is so worried about what could/should be an innocuous bridge, why don't we just have a bridge design competition, open to all. Yesterday I intuitively predicted someone would propose a covered bridge , today we have it. What fun this bridge process will be.