October 25, 2012
I-81 bridge work angers residents
$6 million project will close Preble Road, sections of I-81
PREBLE — A planned six-month closure of Preble Road next year to accommodate Interstate 81 bridge construction outraged residents Wednesday at an informational meeting by the state Department of Transportation in Preble Town Hall.
Residents railed against what they said would be the accompanying traffic jams in the village of Homer and along Route 281, safety risks from delayed emergency response vehicles, and adverse economic impacts to local businesses.
The state DOT plans to close Preble Road from May to November 2013 during construction on the north and southbound I-81 bridges. The planned project detour will route traffic between Routes 281 and 11 as Interstate 81 will be closed to traffic for one month between Exits 12 and 13 as each bridge is worked on.
DOT officials were informing the public of the approximately $6 million project and gathering feedback about the local impact of the planned rerouting.
Because of repeated accidents involving oversized trucks hitting the northbound bridge, the work has been moved forward to 2013 from the original project schedule date of 2015, said DOT Region 3 Structures Engineer John Sexton.
The height of the bridge will be increased from 14 feet 3 inches to 15 feet 6 inches.
Sexton said the DOT has not yet finalized all aspects of the project but so far the construction staff thinks Preble Road must be closed for the duration of the bridge construction to allow the workers unimpeded access to the structure.
Sexton said it is imperative that the northbound bridge be completed in 2013. The DOT aims to complete the southbound bridge during that season as well but that structure could be pushed into 2014. The bridges will not be done simultaneously.
The northbound bridge, because it has been hit in past years, most recently in April, has heavily damaged support beams on the middle span, he said.
“Three out of the five beams are mangled. The fourth is significantly damaged,” Sexton said.
The replacement bridge would be a precast concrete structure. The lanes will be widened to 12 feet and the shoulders will be 6 feet wide.
Some residents offered solutions to the rerouting of traffic on local roads and the closure of Preble Road, saying a temporary bridge should instead be built or traffic rerouted onto Interstate 81 with one lane going in each direction. These options are too costly, say DOT officials. Sexton said the rerouting of traffic to 81 could cost up to $2 million more.
But residents like Mike Dannon worry about the delayed response time of emergency rescue vehicles with the traffic diversion. He said he had a fire in his house on Route 11 recently and his home would have been destroyed if response time was just a few minutes longer.
Dannon also cites the potential economic impacts to local businesses that would have to follow time-consuming detours.
“There are seven businesses on the east side of Route 81,” Dannon said. “The majority of business comes from the Route 281 side.”
Dannon thinks Interstate 81 should instead be made single lane in either direction.
Dannon and Preble resident John Steger suggested the DOT consolidate road work by repairing other bridges at the same time, saving money and making the traffic diversion onto 81 a cost-effective solution. Steger, a former Cortland County legislator, and Dannon said if Song Lake Road and Little York Bridge were repaired at the same time it, would save money and make the most of the traffic diversion.
Steger also suggested lowering Preble Road by about 12 inches, saying catch basins could be added to address drainage problems.
“I think there are more feasible ways to proceed with this project,” Steger said.
Sexton encouraged residents to write down their suggestions on forms provided. The DOT will be accepting comments and feedback for another two weeks, said Cynthia Bell, a DOT highway design engineer.
She said the department knew closing Preble Road would not be a popular solution. She said state officials are studying how to address all the concerns, such as adding traffic signals at busy intersections.
She said the department wants input from the “big users” of Preble Road.
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