2018-11-07 / Front Page

Delaware County DPW Staff Dispute Bridge Report Findings

By Rosie Cunningham

Fitches Bridge in Delhi received a “poor” safety rating according to data from the 2017 National Bridge Inventory. Rosie Cunningham/The Reporter Fitches Bridge in Delhi received a “poor” safety rating according to data from the 2017 National Bridge Inventory. Rosie Cunningham/The Reporter DELAWARE COUNTY - Seventeen bridges in Delaware County qualify for replacement.

This data comes from the 2017 National Bridge Inventory (NBI), an annual report issued by the National Highway Administration (NHA).

Fitches Bridge Road, Delhi; Delaware River-Bridge Street, Downsville; Delaware River- Basin Clove Road, Hamden; Delaware River-Corbett Road, Colchester; Bull Run Stream- Swart Street, Margaretville; Telford Hollow Brook, County Road 26, Downsville; West Brook- Bob Gould Road, Walton; Town Brook-Clove Road, Hobart; Cold Spring Creek-Mills Road, Stilesville; Ouleout Creek-Case Hill Road, Treadwell; Third Brook- Ogden Street, Walton; Town Brook-Reservoir Road, Hobart; Jump Brook-Rte. 23 and West Settlement Creek-County Road 41, Roxbury.

Per year, it is estimated that 5,798,343.75 vehicles travel over the above-mentioned bridges and total improvement cost is $13,513,000. The three lowest scores in Delaware County are the covered bridges - Fitches Bridge scored a zero.

According to Solid Waste Director at Delaware County DPW Susan McIntyre and additional DPW staff members they were surprised by the report.

“Sufficiency ratings appear to be a tool used in the past to determine federal funding eligibility, and compared to actual NBI element ratings nor New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) inspection ratings do not reflect the actual condition or safety of the structures. It appears that the report made an incorrect inference. A sufficiency rating does not directly reflect a condition rating. This can be seen clearly in the case of Fitches Bridge.”

The DPW staff said the NBI ratings for the major elements of Fitches Bridge in 2016 were as follows: Deck – nine excellent condition, superstructure – eight Very Good Condition, substructure – five fair condition.

“We rely on NYSDOT for bridge evaluations and we immediately reached out to NYSDOT for more information,” said McIntyre. “Internally, we have been reviewing the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) bridge rankings. It appears the data is from 2016. In this data set the county-owned Fitches covered bridge is listed among 20 other state-owned bridges in Delaware County with a sufficiency rating of 0. We are not sure how accurate this data is or why so many have a rating of 0. A report issued in July 2018 by the Office of the NYS Comptroller, which relied on the same 2016 NBI data set, only mentions structurally deficient and functionally obsolete categories. The historic Fitches covered bridge is functionally obsolete. No surprise there, it’s a historic bridge, rehabilitated in 2001 to retain its historic features and characteristics. In the same way that a fully restored Ford Model T is functionally obsolete, that does not mean it is unsafe when used as intended.”

McIntyre said covered bridges are held to the same standards as all others.

“While historic covered bridges have unique designs based upon their intended level of use and traffic, they are held to the same level of bridge inspection and evaluation as other bridges,” she said.

She discussed what measures DPW takes to ensure safety for bridges in the county - adding that NYSDOT provides annual inspections of the three covered bridges, and all other countyowned bridges.

“If any conditions warrant “flags” or are of concern they are addressed. All of the covered bridges in the county were substantially rehabilitated, first with Downsville in 1998, Hamden in 2000 and later Fitches in 2001. The town of Colchester has limited the use of the Downsville covered bridge to passenger cars only. Delaware County DPW monitors traffic activity on the Fitches Bridge during local tourism events. All three covered bridges have a posted weight limit of 3 tons. Delaware County’s three covered bridges are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The rehabilitation work aimed to preserve their historic and structural integrity. Our three covered bridges were inspected by NYSDOT in 2017 and were listed as structurally sound for their intended level of use.”

McIntyre said “scores” are determined by bridge inspections. Delaware County bridges are scored using federal evaluation methods administered by the NYSDOT. At least once every two years NYSDOT inspects state and local bridges as mandated by federal and state regulation, and issues a General Bridge Inspection Report.

Based upon the bridge inspection, NYSDOT may close bridges that are determined to be unsafe. Bridges that are safe but that have scores indicative of needing corrective measures are “flagged.”

“NYSDOT shares their bridge inspection reports and flags with our Delaware County Department of Public Works,” she said. “When a bridge inspection finds a safety hazard, or ‘flag,’ our Delaware County DPW - Engineering Division and Bridge Crew, are mobilized to respond in the field.”

Further, McIntyre said for Fitches covered bridge NYSDOT’s most recent inspection was performed in June 2017 during which more than 40 different bridge features were individually inspected and scored. This inspection report includes individual component scoring and does not rely on a single “sufficiency rating” as shown on the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) listing. The NBI scoring system used to calculate the sufficiency rating compares bridge elements to current standards. The NYSDOT bridge inspection reports that we receive at least biennially rate the elements based on their condition compared to the original design and function.

“The 2017 inspection of Fitches listed only one cautionary yellow flag and the bridge was deemed safe for continued use,” said Mc- Intyre. “It’s important to note that the NBI scoring system compares an existing bridge against current day Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) bridge design standards. A bridge that is deemed “structurally deficient” does not mean that the bridge is unsafe or in immediate danger of collapse. ‘Structurally deficient’ means the bridge does not meet contemporary FHWA design standards. This is akin to many existing homes and buildings that do not meet current Uniform Building Code standards, and yet these homes and buildings are safe to live and work in. Through preventative maintenance, rehab and repair we keep our bridge infrastructure structurally sound and viable for community use and reduce our financial demands for new bridge construction.”

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