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Future uncertain for closed Town of Tonawanda pedestrian bridge

The future is uncertain for a 50-year-old pedestrian bridge over Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda that was closed last month due to safety concerns as officials grapple with their options.

The bridge, which was built in 1966 for $43,000, was closed July 29 after an inspection by the town engineer and highway superintendent.

“They determined there was too much ‘give’ in it,” said Councilman John Bargnesi Jr. “They were very uncomfortable with it.”

The bridge is primarily used by students walking to and from the Hoover Elementary and Middle schools on the north side of Sheridan. And with classes set to begin in three weeks, officials have arrived at a tentative short-term plan.

Police Chief Jerome Uschold said the town would hire four additional crossing guards, with two each positioned at Sheridan’s intersections with Colvin Boulevard to the east and Delaware Road to the west. Students would be directed to cross there. The hires will cost the town about $32,000 per year.

For the long-term, town officials appear to have three options: repair the existing bridge, demolish the existing bridge and replace it with a new one or demolish it with no replacement.

Bargnesi said the current span is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which limits grant money available for repairs. The bridge has outlived its useful lifespan and is due in November for an inspection by the state Department of Transportation, which agreed with the decision to close the bridge, he said.

“We’re positive it won’t pass the way it is,” Bargnesi said.

The estimated cost for a replacement bridge was pegged two years ago at $2 million to $2.5 million, although the town could apply for a state grant from the BridgeNY program, which would cover up to 95 percent of the cost. The town would also need to acquire some private land along Sheridan to make a new bridge ADA-compliant.

The town had asked the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District to assist with the remaining $100,000 or more, in addition to the cost of future upkeep, maintenance and liability of a new bridge.

But Superintendent Dawn Mirand said, “Our legal counsel has advised us that a school district is not permitted to financially support a bridge, or items that are off school property.”

Finally, the town could decline to build a replacement. A study by the town conducted several years ago found that approximately 20 to 30 pedestrians use the bridge during peak morning and afternoon hours on school days.

“The numbers were surprisingly low,” Bargnesi said.

At last week’s School Board meeting, President Jill O’Malley said she was concerned about students traveling back and forth from Hoover and Kenmore West High School for extracurricular activities while Trustee Tom Reigstad expressed support for a replacement bridge.

Ultimately, however, school officials will likely support whatever option is chosen by the town.

“If the school system isn’t going to commit any money, finances at all, then the town has to decide what we can do, what our options are moving forward,” Bargnesi said.


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