The state Department of Transportation is being asked to move up the planned replacement of the Harlem Road bridge over Buffalo Creek in West Seneca, where an ice jam and flooding earlier this month damaged 70 homes.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, made the request in a letter Wednesday to DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald.
He wrote, in part: “We cannot say, with certainty, that any one environmental or design feature in this floodway caused this jam to occur, including the bridge piers. It is reasonable to suspect, however, that these piers may have contributed to the accumulation and slowing of ice in this vicinity and may have played a role.”
During a sudden warmup on Jan. 11, ice and water overflowed the creek banks, flooding the Lexington Green neighborhood off Mineral Springs Road. Some of the homes suffered structural damage and many had several feet of water in their basements.
The proposed project is under development, with construction scheduled to begin in fall 2015. The work also includes reconstructing Harlem Road, between Mineral Springs Road and Clinton Street; new sidewalks; and drainage improvements.
Higgins says the threat of future ice jams merits prioritizing the project.
He also recommends redesigning the bridge. The Harlem Road bridge has five piers in the creek, he noted, while all of the others downstream have just one pier or none.
Buffalo Creek curves northwest in the Lexington Green area before merging with Cayuga Creek, forming the Buffalo River immediately east of the Harlem Road bridge.
“I further write to advocate that the design of the new structure take into account the propensity of this stretch [of] river toward damaging ice jam floods, and that the new design should minimize the potential contribution of the bridge’s elements to ice accumulation, including, as appropriate, a reduction in the number of piers.”
The estimated cost of the overall project is approximately $10.4 million, according to the DOT.
Higgins suggested that additional costs related to making it more flood-resilient may be eligible for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program money that has been available for New York State to use as a result of Hurricanes Sandy and Irene. That program is administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps finance the upgrade of public infrastructure to reduce the risk of damage from future natural disasters.
But FEMA aid is otherwise not available to victims of the recent West Seneca flood, because the damage was insufficient to meet FEMA guidelines.