New York State officials announced, on August 9, 2007, that some damage to the Throgs Neck Bridge showing advanced wear and tear was found during a routine biannual inspection that began prior to last week’s Minneapolis bridge collapse. As a result, restrictions to the access to the bridge by over-sized rigs will be increased. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”) said the bridge is safe for drivers.
To ease the bridge’s deterioration, the state is rescinding a two-year program that allowed certain trucks weighing 105,000 pounds to travel on the center lanes at 30 mph at any time of day. Those trucks must now either reduce their loads to the legal bridge weight limit of 80,000 pounds or apply for a special permit to travel on the bridge at night with an escort. According to the MTA, some truck drivers have been ignoring the weight limit, so it is stepping up enforcement on the bridge by using portable weight machines to test trucks.
The Throgs Neck Bridge is one of the city’s newest bridges, having opened in 1961. The cracks were first identified in 1990 in the lightweight steel deck that supports the roadway on both approaches to the bridge, which stretches from the Bronx to Queens and is the major commercial artery linking Long Island to Westchester County and upstate New York.
Concerns arose in 2005 when engineers observed a proliferation of cracks on the roadway decks of the bridge that they concluded that were multiplying at an alarming rate. The cracks, in the steel deck structures on either side of the span, are ominous because they began appearing decades earlier than expected. The decks, installed in the mid-1980’s in place of the original concrete decks, should have a life expectancy of many decades. The appearance of cracks after only 20 years was thus considered disturbing.
Governor Eliot Spitzer announced that a preliminary review of the most recent inspection reports of 49 bridges in the state that are of similar design to the collapsed Minnesota bridge found that none is in immediate jeopardy. Eight of the 49 are in New York City – the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Queensboro Bridge, Marine Parkway Bridge, 145th Street Bridge, West 207th Street Bridge and bridges on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Major Deegan Expressway. None of the 49 similar bridges are in Nassau or Suffolk counties.
However,a National Bridge Inventory compiled by the Federal Highway Administration found that 3.3 percent of bridges on Long Island are “structurally deficient”. The figure was 11.5 percent in New York City, 12.1 percent in New York State and 12.1 percent nationwide. A bridge is typically judged structurally deficient if heavy trucks are banned or there are other weight restrictions, if it needs immediate work to stay open or if it is closed. Such a bridge is considered in need of substantial maintenance, rehabilitation or even replacement.
When combined with bridges that are considered “functionally obsolete” – that is a bridge that no longer handles traffic sufficiently – the figure for New York State rises to 38 percent. New York made major changes to its bridge inspection requirements after 10 people were killed in the collapse of the Schoharie Creek Bridge, which was part of the New York State Thruway system, on April 5, 1987.
The inspection changes include requiring inspections on an annual/biannual basis and diver inspections of underwater bridge structures every 5 years. In Minnesota, investigators said they found a possible design flaw involving the Minnesota bridge’s “gusset plates,” which connect the angular steel girders. They were specifically looking at stress that ongoing roadwork put on the plates, along with the material used in constructing the plates. Gusset plates are found in many bridges – including the Throgs Neck, Henry Hudson and Manhattan Bridges in New York City. There was no indication those bridges are at risk.
In addition to looking into the gusset plates, some of which were 1/2 inch thick rather than the designed 1 inch, investigators are looking at whether extra weight from construction work being performed on the bridge could have led to its collapse.
The number of confirmed dead from the Minneapolis disaster continues to rise as divers find and remove bodies from the river. Many others sustained personal injuries.
Levine & Slavit has offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling motor vehicle accident and roadway defect cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. If you or someone close to you has been injured in an accident, contact one of our personal injury lawyers.