Central Avenue Bridge repaired at last

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Mayor Douglas French, center, was surrounded by City Council members, from left, Julie Killian, Richard Filippi, Catherine Parker and Peter Jovanovich as he cut the ribbon reopening the Central Avenue Bridge after almost seven years in disrepair.

By LIZ BUTTON
After more than six years, the city has finished the reconstruction of the Central
Avenue Bridge.

The project, begun after powerful storms devastated the city in March and April of 2007, was officially deemed complete at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Sept. 6.

City officials touted the fact that the bridge, which passes over the Blind Brook to connect Central Avenue to Boston Post Road, was ready to use in time for the start of school on Sept. 9, as promised.

“This is what local government does. It gets stuff done. Look at all the improvements around town,” said Mayor Douglas French, a Republican who will leave office this year after a four year term. “This project, however, put that theory to the test.”

The Central Avenue Bridge has been the site of figurativeand also very real roadblocks and barriers since the city put out a bid for repairs in 2007 to deal with the $80 million in storm damage to the city, which included devastated infrastructure, flooded residences, and serious damage to the Central Avenue Bridge’s west abutment.

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The Central Avenue Bridge project was more than six years in the making due to delays in regulatory approvals from state and federal agencies. Photos/Liz Button

But delays in the government approval process involving both state and federal agencies gummed up the works for more than six years. Regulatory issues required the city transfer project funding from FEMA, which would have included a 100 percent reimbursement in cost to the city, to the state Department of Transportation.

The state DOT Emergency Relief Program took up the work in March 2009, when scrutiny revealed that Central Avenue was a state road and, as such, ineligible for FEMA funding. After that, the city was required to work within certain state requirements to move the project forward.

“It was a real challenge; there were days when I thought that the Tappan Zee Bridge would be funded, built and completed before our little Central Avenue Bridge,” French said on Friday, “But here we are.”
Construction firm ELQ Industries wrapped up the project by the contract date of Aug. 18, then spent another two weeks restoring the site: installing sidewalks, doing concrete work and re-paving a portion of the Boston Post Road.

In 2012, the city awarded the company a $1.3 million contract for the construction work. ELQ also recently completed the city’s Bowman Avenue sluice gate flood mitigation project.

The final cost estimate for the Central Avenue Bridge project is $2 million, according to the mayor. The state DOT is paying for 80 percent of the project, and the city has authorized bonds to pay for the rest.

City officials must now decide whether or not to remove the Lowenstein Bridge, a nearby defunct access bridge that was also damaged in the 2007 storms. The City Council is currently awaiting a cost estimate and recommendation from the
city engineer.

At the Sept. 6 ribbon cutting, French recognized the council members in attendance who had been involved in the project since its infancy: Democratic Councilwoman Catherine Parker, Republican Councilman Richard Filippi, Republican Councilman and independent mayoral candidate Peter Jovanovich and former Democratic Councilman Andy Ball, who was in office during the 2007 storms.

Since the project started, Rye has been through three governors, two mayors, three city managers and at least 10 council members, French said. Time spent on the project was extended even further due to tight financing over the course of the recession and a number of weather events unprecedented in recent years.

Republican Councilwoman Julie Killian also attended the event, along with state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat who said “regulatory rigmarole” got in the way of the process, demonstrating the inefficient way state and federal agencies interact with municipalities.

While it is good to have the bridge back in service, Latimer, a former Rye City councilman who was a member of the city’s Traffic Safety Committee in the 1980s, noted heavier and more dangerous traffic conditions on surrounding streets over the last six years.

Latimer said the Ridge Street Bridge, another project managed by the state, was handled better and completed much sooner than the Central Avenue Bridge, even though that bridge is twice as long. But, no matter how long it actually took to complete the project, the city will certainly learn from this experience, Latimer said.

Other residents from the neighborhood who attended the ribbon cutting said they felt similarly about the traffic situation.

“Walnut Street was a main thoroughfare. Now we’ll get our street back,” said resident Jessie Harper, 84, who has lived on Walnut for the last 60 years.

Harper said cars would use her street as a detour during the construction and, from time to time, would park on both sides of the narrow road.

While driving during the repairs was an inconvenience, Harper said she was most glad that the rearranged traffic patterns did not lead to any children getting hurt during
the construction.

French said Central Avenue is called such for a reason; it is a key artery in the city that connects its main thoroughfares, and it “has to be open.”

Along with state officials who helped coordinate various governmental agencies, the mayor also praised City Manager Scott Pickup for seeing the project through to
the end.

Pickup attended the ceremony along with City Engineer Ryan Coyne, City Planner Christian Miller, and representatives from the state DOT, engineering firm Ammann & Whitney, who helped with the redesign of the bridge, and ELQ Industries.

Filippi, a Loewen Court resident who called the bridge “a monument to volunteerism,” was the first to drive his car over the bridge to cheers of
“it works.”

Contact liz@hometwn.com

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About Liz Button

Liz Button is a staff reporter for Hometown Media Group’s The Rye Sound Shore Review. Previously, she covered Bedford and Mount Kisco for The Daily Voice, an Internet-based, hyperlocal publication. She’s also written for Patch in her hometown of Trumbull, Conn., as a freelance reporter and fill-in editor. Preceding her time there, she worked in publishing in New York City. She is a 2008 graduate of Bowdoin College with a degree in English. Reach Liz at 914-653-1000 x20 or liz@hometwn.com; follow her on Twitter @ryesoundshore.