Delhi bridge repairs cause worries, business losses

Above: Contractors work on the rehabilitation of Delhi's Kingston Street bridges. The bridges carry Route 28 over the West Branch of the Delaware River. Photo by Robert Cairns.

The mayor of the Delaware County village of Delhi says that work on the main river crossing through the village is behind schedule, but a New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) official disagrees. Meanwhile, a Delhi flower shop on the island between the bridges under repair is struggling as construction limits access to her store.

The Kingston Street bridges, a matching pair of steel spans, carry Route 28 over the West Branch of the Delaware River into the village center from the south. Since mid-May, traffic has been limited to one lane as DOT contractors carry out a long-delayed construction project.

Mayor Richard Maxey, at the Monday, July 20 meeting of the Dehil Village Board of Trustees, said that work on the bridges is behind schedule by “at least two months, I would think.”

He said that contractors found more deterioration in the structural steel than expected and had to make unexpected repairs.

Above: Sheila Beemer, the owner of a flower shop in the middle of the construction zone, says that her sales have been cut in half by limited access. Photo by Robert Cairns.

“I don't see where they're going to finish and get the bridges painted this year,” Maxey said. “They'll be lucky to have the steel done before it snows.”

Maxey also said that a worker on the project told him, “off the cuff,” that it would have been less expensive to build a new bridge than to repair the old ones.

"Not out of the ordinary"

Scott Vergason, a DOT engineer and assistant to the DOT's Region 9 director, told a different story in an email response to questions about the project.

Vergason said that structural connection plates “were identified to be in need of repair or replacement” early in the project and that a decision was made to completely replace all of the sidewalks due to their state of deterioration.

“These findings are not out of the ordinary for a bridge of this type and age,” he said.

As for timing, Vergason said, “NYSDOT has been working closely with the contractor to ensure this project is kept on schedule and we are confident it will be completed on time this construction season.”

Vergason also disputed the notion that a new bridge would have been less expensive. He noted that DOT officials considered both rehabilitation and replacement before deciding on the latter.

“After developing costs for these alternatives and performing cost/benefit studies, the department selected rehabilitation as the preferred alternative,” he said.

Vergason said that the contract cost for the project was approximately $1.5 million, though extra work may add approximately 20 percent to that price. The replacement alternative, he said, was estimated to cost $9 million.

Florist losing sales, considering layoffs

An island in the river lies between the two bridges. Known as “Dubben's Island,” it is home to a truck depot for Dubben Gas Service and a building that houses Sheila's Sunny Dale Florist.

Above: Sheila Beemer in front of her store. Photo by Robert Cairns. 

Sheila Beemer, the owner of the flower shop, says that her business has dropped by half since construction began, and she is worried that it will get worse when work shifts to the lane and sidewalk closer to the store.

Beemer said she lost $7,000 in sales during the first three weeks of work on the bridges, and fears she could lose $60,000 to $70,000 before it's over. She said that she is trying to avoid laying off her two employees, knowing that she will need them when things return to normal in December.

“I had phenomenal business until this point,” she said.

Beemer said that people are avoiding Kingston Street and its “gauntlet of traffic lights” entirely, and that customers have told her that they were worried about getting out of the parking lot if they managed to get in.

Beemer said she has written to U.S. Congressman Chris Gibson, state Senator John Bonacic, state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney and local business advocates, seeking help. She said Mary Beth Silano, executive director of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, ha offered to help seek grants to keep the business afloat, and that the Greater Delhi Chamber of Commerce has been supportive as well.

Another challenge, Beemer said, is that she has to keep inventory on hand for unexpected events such as funerals, but that much of the product is discarded each week when it does not sell.

She worries that access to the store will get harder yet when construction moves to the other lane and access to her parking lot will be over a large “bridge” of plate steel. “Nobody's going to drive over that,” she said.

Beemer said she believes the state should provide a “gap grant” to offset her losses.

“Everybody's been real nice, but nobody's stepping forward to do anything," she said.

Above: Contractors put up signs letting Kingston Street travelers know that the flower shop is open during construction. Photo by Robert Cairns. 

Vergason said, in his email message, that the DOT “is very sensitive to the impacts this project has had on the business located on the island,” and, “we have been doing what we can to accommodate her customers and reduce impacts to her business.”

He noted that work was delayed until after Mother's Day, a major holiday for a florist, and that the contractor had installed signs stating that the business is open. “Access for both pedestrians and vehicles will be maintained throughout the second phase of construction,” he said.

Beemer stressed that she understands the importance of the bridge rehabilitation.

“I agree that this needs to be done and it's a good thing,” she said. “I'm going to make the best of it. I'm not going anywhere.”

Correction: We've corrected the spelling of Sheila Beemer's name.