‘Structurally deficient’ bridge in Oceanside needs repairs

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Every day, hundreds of commuters cross a structurally deficient bridge in Oceanside that is in need of repairs, according to a study by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Built in 1932 and reconstructed in 1986, the Pearl Street Bridge is one of six overpasses on Long Island that require immediate attention and upgrades, according to Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association. LICA represents about 170 of Long Island’s heavy construction general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and industry supporters, with a focus on the infrastructure construction industry.

“Every day, Long Islanders’ safety is being put at risk when crossing over countless structurally deficient bridges,” Herbst said. “The bottom line is this: We need resources to fix and upgrade our infrastructure. We simply cannot afford to let this issue continue to spiral out of control. Now is the time to dedicate funds to ensure that all New Yorkers are traveling safely and securely.”

There are 2,557 bridges in need of some type of repair across Nassau and Suffolk counties, six of which are structurally deficient, according to the ARTBA’s report. “Structurally deficient” is a term used by the National Bridge Inventory Database to describe a bridge that has one or more structural defects that require attention. The ARTBA estimated that there are about 77,668 crossings among those six bridges each day.

The Pearl Street Bridge, connects Oceanside to East Rockaway. The bridge over Barnum Channel, on Long Beach Road, between Oceanside and Island Park, was previously listed as structurally deficient, but has since been repaired.

Calls requesting comment by the county, which oversees the overpass at Pearl Street, were not returned at press time.

In 2017, Mary Studdert, the spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Public Works, told the Herald that a contract to renovate the Pearl Street Bridge had been awarded to Queens-based Thomas Novelli Contracting in 2016, and that the project was expected to cost $1.34 million. Despite the bridge being deemed structurally deficient, Studdert said at the time that there was no load restriction on it. Calls and emails requesting an update about the project were not returned at press time.

Two years ago, County Legislator Denise Ford said that improving the bridges was vital. “We’re addressing these issues,” she said, “in a fashion so as to minimize the impact on the residents and the motorists.”

The substructure — the foundation, including abutments and piers — of the Pearl Street Bridge was found to be in poor condition. However, it met the “minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is,” according to the National Bridge Iventory Database.

ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black released the findings of the association’s report in February 2017. “America’s highway network is woefully underperforming,” the report read. “It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization. State and local transportation departments haven’t been provided the resources to keep pace with the nation’s bridge needs.”

Herbst said federal dollars are needed to make the necessary improvements to the structures, and with officials set to soon discuss a five-year capital program for the state, LICA will advocate for funding. He added that the state’s Department of Transportation is federally required to inspect bridges biannually. The DOT confirmed that the bdige was last inspected on April 25, 2017, and was due for an inspection in the next couple of days. "Under the Federal Highway Administration inspection system, a bridge is rated to be in poor condition — previously termed structurally deficient — if one of its major components is rated at 4 or less, which does not necessarily mean that the bridge is unsafe," DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said. "If a bridge is unsafe, it’s closed."

Though the bridge is considered safe, Herbst said the time to push for funding has arrived. “We are advocating on behalf of Nassau County to get this project on the Transportation Improvement Plan list so that it is eligible for federal dollars,” Herbst said. “We are also trying to get state officials to advocate as well.” 

He added that the county DPW would conduct studies for the repair designs, but if legislators aren’t made aware of the specific projects needed to improve the bridge, the opportunity to fund the repairs could be lost. He noted that the bridge remains safe, but the repairs are urgent.

“Just because the bridge is declared as structurally deficient does not mean it’s unsafe as long as precautions are taken and some repairs are made,” Herbst said. “But it’s still something that is essentially on a watch list to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate further.”

Ben Strack contributed to this story.