BRIDGE WORK TAKING A BITE OUT OF ISLANDERS' LIVES - The Buffalo News

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BRIDGE WORK TAKING A BITE OUT OF ISLANDERS' LIVES

For Grand Island commuter Michael J. Hagen, life suddenly has begun to revolve around the Grand Island bridges.

Hagen, a Marine Midland vice president, finds himself rising half an hour earlier each morning, paying close attention to the radio traffic reports and traveling over selected alternative routes and "secret short cuts" in the daily struggle to shorten the wait for crossing the Niagara River.

"I even thought about dusting off my old CB radio to see if that might help," he said.

The $12.4 million reconstruction of the southbound South Grand Island Bridge has altered the lives of thousands of Grand Island residents over the past three weeks because of the huge lines and lengthy delays resulting from the project.

Not only has it forced changes in driving habits, but personal routines have changed, too. For most, it's a matter of leaving earlier or getting home later. The delays of sometimes more than 20 minutes seem to be accepted as part of island life.

"When you're used to just driving over the bridges, something like this is never nice," Hagen said. "But it really doesn't bother me. We chose to live on Grand Island, and it's one of those things we have to put up with."

Thruway Authority and Town of Grand Island officials say that after three weeks of construction, the lines and delays have become somewhat established. Most commuters can expect to wait at least 10 to 15 minutes, according to Leonard J. DePrima, the State Thruway Authority's division engineer. That's longer than the last bridge project two years ago, when delays averaged eight to 10 minutes.

Still, DePrima said surveys indicate substantial numbers of commuters are taking alternative routes. Niagara Falls commuters crossing the northbound bridges have fallen from about 1,100 vehicles per hour to around 800 per hour. Volume at the south bridges, which normally stands at about 2,100 per hour at peak, is now down to about 1,200 or 1,300.

One of the big disappointments has been an unenthusiastic response to buses as an alternative, DePrima said. Metro Bus officials indicate only about 49 extra people per day are riding buses, despite their ability to travel on the shoulders of roads.

"There are no delays on the buses," DePrima said. "But the great majority of people are not doing that and are suffering delays."

Hagen said he has taken the bus on other occasions but finds the ride just as long by the time it swings down Niagara Street to downtown. He said he has also found the express buses leaving from the parking lot at Fantasy Island are usually full.

Grand Island Supervisor Martin Prast also thinks residents of his town have accepted the delays.

"It's pure and simple, reconstruction of that bridge creates a problem on Grand Island," he said. "Unfortunately, you get to the point where you get used to it. A certain amount of delay is accepted."

Yet he thinks the situation could improve even more if commuters used buses or car pools.

DePrima said Thruway officials are continuing to monitor the situation and have made small improvements such as yellow traffic lights instead of stop and go lights, as well as more deputies directing traffic.

The construction project is expected to continue until mid-November, then resume next spring.

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