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WASHINGTON – Nearly 300 local bridges across Western New York are out of date or in need of repair, Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced Wednesday as he launched a push for more federal funding to help fix those spans.

Citing Federal Highway Administration data, the New York Democrat issued a report showing that 76 bridges in Erie County are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The problem was even worse in Chautauqua County, where 78 bridges are in need of a fix.

Local highway officials emphasized, though, that the bridges that need to be fixed don’t pose an immediate danger, but instead need either structural improvements or modernization to keep them functioning well in the years to come.

“If any bridges weren’t safe, we’d close them,” said John C. Loffredo, commissioner of public works for Erie County. “We don’t roll the dice on public safety.”

Schumer warned that those bridges may not get the repairs they need under a highway funding bill currently making its way through Congress. That’s because the current version of the bill would freeze funding for such bridges – which are not on federal highways – at its current level of $71 million in annual funding for New York State through 2020.

Worried about the effects of that funding freeze, Schumer joined with Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., and Roy D. Blunt, R-Mo., to propose an amendment that would boost bridge funding nationwide. The funding boost would bring New York another $50 million a year.

“Now that we are considering a new transportation bill in Congress, it is the perfect opportunity to finally provide towns and counties with the funding for local bridges they deserve, and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Schumer said. “It brings local bridge funding levels up to a sensible amount instead of keeping them stagnant for a decade, and I will fight to ensure that Congress gets this done.”

With government funding tight all around, “many communities simply don’t have the money to keep pace with the deterioration of our bridges,” Schumer added.

In Erie County, though, the state of the local bridges is actually better than it’s been in years past, Loffredo said, citing improved technology and materials that make repairs last longer.

Still, “more money would be good,” Loffredo said. “We want to make sure we get these repairs done faster.”

The bridges that are in need of repair fall into two categories.

“Structurally deficient” bridges have deteriorated over time or experienced damage that needs to be repaired; some, in fact, may have weight restrictions placed on them because of the problems.

There are 36 bridges in Erie County in that category, including the Porter Avenue bridge over the Niagara Thruway, the West Ferry Street bridge over the Black Rock Channel and the Main Street and Rein Road bridges over Ellicott Creek.

“Functionally obsolete” bridges don’t meet current design standards. For example, they may not have sidewalks, or not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Forty Erie County bridges are ranked as functionally obsolete, including eight spans over the Thruway, four over the Niagara Thruway and four over the Kensington Expressway.

Schumer’s statewide calculations show that the problems of out-of-date bridges in some of the more rural counties are even worse than those in urban counties.

For example, Chautauqua County has 50 functionally obsolete bridges, along with 28 structurally deficient spans. Bridges needing work there include 15 over the Thruway.

“In Chautauqua County, we work hard to maintain our local roads and bridges, but often times there is simply not enough funding available to keep pace with the depreciation of infrastructure,” said County Executive Vincent W. Horrigan, who lauded Schumer’s efforts.

Spans that need repairs or ar out of date (by county

Chautauqua 78

Erie 76

Cattaraugus 39

Orleans 38

Genesee 33

Wyoming 18

Niagara 15

Total 297

List includes bridges that are “structurally deficient” – have deteriorated or become damaged – as well as those that are “functionally obsolete,” meaning that they don’t meet current design standards.

Source: Federal Highway Administration data from office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer

email: jzremski@buffnews.com