After getting little to no response from the county and state on saving the Route 52 bridge in Selkirk, Christine Frankovic has started collecting signatures on a petition to save Ben’s Bridge.
Frankovic, 37, lives in South Bethlehem and said she collected 20 signatures in the petition’s first 24 hours and had collected more than140 signatures by Monday,Aug. 24. Frankovic, along with Albany County Legislator Richard Mendick, C-Selkirk, were collecting signatures Saturday, Aug. 22, at the Selkirk Fire Department’s annual clam steam at the Selkirk Fire Company No. 3 Firehouse.
`I want to start a neighborhood coalition to get some people together and have some meetings and possibly consult with a bridge company for their thoughts,` Frankovic said.
Albany County has recommended the state’s Department of Transportation tear down the bridge after it failed an inspection that found it structurally deficient. The bridge has been closed since July 6.
Clough Harbour and Associates was hired by the county to help evaluate three main options for repairing, replacing and removing the bridge. County officials ultimately said the most cost-effective option was to remove the Old School Road bridge that traverses 11,000 feet over about 50 CSX rail lines.
Albany County Commissioner of Public Works Michael Franchini said it would cost $16 million to replace span, about $13 million to repair it and just over $1 million to tear it down.
In a July 31 letter to Frankovic, Robert Hansen, the acting director of planning and program management of the state’s DOT, said the final decision is one for the county to make.
`The county has to provide their improvement recommendation (replacement or elimination) to us, and unless it is unreasonable, we intend to support that decision,` Hansen wrote.
The county is supporting the elimination of bridge once plans are reviewed by the DOT, according to Franchini, which could take a `couple months` from when plans were submitted in early July.
Residents, headed by Frankovic, have been critical of the county’s decision to permanently close the bridge, citing a slowdown in emergency response times and the inconvenience of being detoured miles away since the bridge has closed. A similar situation happened in the late 1980s, when a disagreement between the county and then CONRAIL over bridge repairs led to it being closed until 1991.
CSX, the current rail yard owners, did not return a call for comment. The company did pitch in for repairs in the 1990-1991 repairs, as it owns the bridge’s superstructure and Albany County owns the rest.
Mendick told The Spotlight in July that he wanted to see the bridge remain open but he did not think the funding would be available.
Frankovic went to the Tuesday, Aug. 25, public hearing of the Albany County Legislature and, citing emergency concerns, made a pitch to representatives to keep the bridge intact, or at least look at other options before tearing it down.
`The very real health and safety concerns created by the bridge’s 1986 closure unfortunately came to light in January of 1989. Some of you may recall that Robert H. Rienow, a nationally renowned environmentalist and founder of the state’s Audubon Society, died inside of his home on Rarick Road, after embers from a woodstove set his home ablaze,` Frankovic said at the hearing. `Had the bridge been open, emergency crews would have arrived sooner, and the outcome might have been different.
`But we’ll never know for sure, will we?`
Selkirk Fire Chief William Borger said from his understanding, Rienow was already dead when first responders arrived on the scene, but that if the bridge were open more of the residential structure may have been saved.
Borger said even before the bridge was closed, its 15-ton weight limit prohibited his heavy pumpers and other large trucks from crossing the bridge, but that first responders, police and ambulance crews frequently used the Route 52 bridge.
The petition being circulated by Frankovic reads as follows:
`In the interest of public safety, we collectively petition the Albany County Executive to actively seek and pursue ways and means to rehabilitate or to replace the County Route 53 Bridge ` Ben’s Bridge ` over the CSX rail yards, which has been closed to all vehicular traffic. We further urge that these efforts include a possible financial/technical partnership with CSX and/or the NYS Department of Transportation, toward that end.`
Those interested in reaching Frankovic in order to sign her petition can e-mail her at: [email protected]