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RIDGE RD. BRIDGE REPAIR 'UNAFFORDABLE,' LACKAWANNA SAYS

After more than a decade of delays, Lackawanna's Ridge Road Bridge will finally get a much-needed overhaul next spring.

But with the price tag currently pegged at $23 million, more than double the original estimate, fiscally troubled Lackawanna is crying foul over the cost inflation, much of it tied to plans for a historically correct rehabilitation.

"We can't afford to front the $4.7 million it will take to start the project," Mayor Norman L. Polanski Jr. said. "We certainly don't have the cash, and with our financial situation, it's doubtful we could borrow it."

The mayor, who met with state Department of Transportation officials earlier this month regarding the bridge project, called the repairs "extremely important" but "completely unaffordable."

"That bridge is part of a major artery through Lackawanna, and it's in terrible shape, but we don't have the money."

The 1930s bridge, which spans the city's main railway corridor, was originally targeted for an overhaul in the late 1980s. In 1993, the city and the DOT agreed on a $10 million project that would get under way in 1997.

But the project stalled as transportation planners reworked project lists. The cost ballooned with the passing of time and the state Office of Historic Preservation's requiring the face-lift to be historically correct. "I realize there aren't many of these types of bridges around anymore, but $3.5 million of the cost is now tied to replicating the original design. We need a functional bridge more than we need a landmark," Polanski said.

Cathy Jimenez, a spokeswoman for the Office of Historic Preservation, said that while the bridge is not currently on the National Register of Historic Structures, it has features that make it eligible. She noted the span's "steel through-girder" and "Warren truss" superstructure that are representative of bridge construction in the 1930s.

In its consultations with the DOT, the preservation office suggested using new girders fabricated to replicate the original design, as well as other construction approaches to retain the bridge's original look. The DOT is implementing those elements in blueprints.

The DOT also continues to talk with Lackawanna officials about the city's role in paying for the bridgework. Because the city owns the bridge, it is classified as a local project, requiring the municipality to provide 20 percent of the costs upfront, DOT spokeswoman Susan Surdej said.

"Ultimately, the federal government will pay for 80 percent, the state pays 15 percent, and the locality's share is 5 percent," she said, "but the municipality has to front the 20 percent to start things off."

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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