2008-03-26 / Features

Long Overdue Hell Gate Bridge Repairs Getting Underway

BY JOHN TOSCANO

After being pressured for several years to make extensive and needed alterations, Amtrak officials notified the lawmaker (Vallone), the work would start April 1. After being pressured for several years to make extensive and needed alterations, Amtrak officials notified the lawmaker (Vallone), the work would start April 1. After years of its being a danger and a nuisance to the Astoria community, Amtrak was scheduled to start repairing the Hell Gate Bridge yesterday according to City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

Vallone has constantly pestered Amtrak to plug the water leaks and put an end to the debris that flows from the bridge on to local streets. About a year ago, the bridge's owner erected a scaffold to start the repair job, but that was as far as the repair job got.

Now, after being pressured for several years to make extensive and needed alterations, Amtrak officials notified the lawmaker the work would start April 1.

"It took a long time, but we have finally pushed this corporation into doing the right thing," Vallone said. "We share this neighborhood with Amtrak, and it should be their responsibility to treat it with respect. For too long this trestle, a landmark of our community, has been a sorry eyesore. I hope Amtrak restores it to something we can again be proud of."

Vallone recounted that for years rocks and chunks of plaster have fallen from the trestle, endangering residents below. He said leaking water has also caused a "disgusting and dangerous situation in an alleyway along 31st Street, especially in winter when the water freezes. One of his employees slipped and broke her wrist there in January he said.

The lawmaker said that when Amtrak originally began repair work on the span in 2006, it underestimated the extent of the bridge's deterioration. He said early estimates of the repair project placed the cost at $3 million, but further review puts the cost closer to $10 million.

When the cost escalated, Vallone said, Amtrak then decided the railroad would not be able to do the necessary repair work itself, so it contracted the job out, which caused a great deal of delay.

The scaffolding erected by Amtrak, left standing after the original attempts to repair the aging trestle were stalled, has also been a source of irritation in the community according to Vallone. Among other things, the bulky temporary structure took away several parking spaces in the already crowded street, and homeless people loiter under it because it provides shelter for them, Vallone complained.

"The delays in this construction have been as much a problem as the construction itself," said Vallone. "For some time it has looked like construction on a ghost town."

At this point, Vallone has joined with Amtrak and the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to design a way for water to drain into city sewers.

He said Amtrak has also agreed to monitor the 31st Street alleyway in order to prevent any more dangerous conditions from arising.

Vallone's campaign to get Amtrak to renovate the trestle dates back for some time. He intensified his efforts when chunks of concrete began falling from the overhead rail structure several years ago, endangering residents walking under it and also cars parked beneath the span.

Vallone also reached out to United States Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton to seek federal funds to give the bridge a fresh coat of paint once the work is completed in about a year.

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