Rehabilitation of Walden’s Hill Street Bridge is not an option. It needs to be replaced.
That’s the advice of Engineer Herb Litts who appeared before the Montgomery Town Board last week after conducting a study of the structure at the town’s request.
The bridge, built in 1928, has been closed to vehicle traffic since 2013, when it was declared unsafe. Walden Village Officials have petitioned the town board to replace the bridge.
“It’s our responsibility as a town,” said Town Supervisor Brian Maher, referring to a state law that places that responsibility squarely on the town, rather than the village, to maintain any bridges within the township. One noteworthy exception, Ward’s Bridge in the Village of Montgomery, was replaced by the New York State Department of Transportation, because it was located along Route 17K, a state road.
While the town is ultimately responsible for the Walden bridge, town officials debated how to pay for it. Would only Walden residents be taxed for it, or would it come out of the town’s general fund supported by residents of all three villages as well as the unincorporated portions, thus taxing all Town of Montgomery residents?
“It wouldn’t be fair just to make the town and Walden residents pay for this,” said Councilwoman Kristen Brown. “If the town has to pay, village of Montgomery and Maybrook residents should also pay for it.”
Deputy Supervisor Ron Feller disagreed.
“Just for the record, I’m not in favor of having people of the Village of Maybrook and Village of Montgomery chip in for this,” Feller said. “It’s bad enough we’re paying for it because we are the town, period. They are not the town.”
Maher said he was sure if the town could create a fund that only taxes residents of the Village of Walden.
Feller also wondered if the bridge could just be used for walking and biking and not replaced.
Litts said the bridge likely had a weight capacity of 30 tons when it was first built. That capacity has since been lowered to 2.8 tons, not enough to support a fire truck. Bridges, he explained, are inspected every other year. A yellow flag will lower the weight capacity and require warnings posted. A red flag, which this bridge received, means it must be closed or repaired immediately.
Walden Mayor John Ramos, sitting in the audience, assured the town board that fire trucks would rely on the bridge if it was available.
It was also pointed out that a second, nearly identical bridge is located several hundred feet away on Hill Street. It was built at the same time, using the same type of materials.
“At some point in time you’re going to have to replace the second one,” Litts said.
Shaun Meres, Town of Montgomery Highway Superintendent, said he had checked with Orange County, and was told that the town could replace the bridge on the condition that the Village of Walden assume the responsibility for it once the work was completed. Ramos said he would support that proposal, but added that would be a village board decision, and not his alone to make.
Litts estimated the cost to replace the one bridge was $700,000 and that’s by utilizing one cost-saving measure. The town, several years ago, acquired four deck panels from the Old Tappan Zee Bridge for the bargain basement price of $1 that could be put to use on Hill Street. The panels measure 50 feet in length by 12 feet six inches in width and could be used to replace the two bridges that each have a 40-foot span.
Litts said the panels were installed on the Old Tappan Zee Bridge between 2009 and 2013 and were in use until the new bridge - renamed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge - opened in 2017.
The panels, only in use for a few years, have a lifespan of 75-100 years and a weight capacity of 130 tons, according to Litts.
Maher said he would explore funding options for the bridge and present them at the August 4 town board meeting.
“It was consciously ignored for 13 years,” Maher said. “And there was a way to fund this years ago that was completely ignored.”