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Town of Tonawanda pedestrian bridge still closed with no plan in place

A more than 50-year-old pedestrian bridge that spans Sheridan Drive near Hoover schools has been closed for seven months, but what will happen to it next remains unknown.

The Town of Tonawanda town engineer closed the bridge for safety reasons  July 26, but Town Board members said they are unable to move forward with a plan until they get a report from the state Department of Transportation, which inspected the bridge in August.

Deputy Supervisor John Bargnesi Jr. said the state concurred that the bridge should be closed, but has not come back with the results of the inspection. He said he had been under the impression that they would receive a report by October.

"That report will identify what actually needs to be repaired. It will allow us to put together what needs to be done for a bid. We're ready to move," said Bargnesi. "But we can't shoot from the hip."

The options range from basic repairs to the higher costs of sandblasting and painting or the even more expensive options of demolishing and building a new bridge.

Michael J. Kaiser, director of technical support, said it would cost an estimated $3 million to replace the existing bridge.

Sheridan Drive: Proceed with caution ... and fear

"Part of the problem with building a new one is that the current bridge doesn't meet guidelines and the New York State DOT requires new bridges to be clear span bridges - with no poles in the middle," said Bargnesi. "The bridge would also have to be much longer to achieve the proper pitch for a wheelchair."

Kaiser said the bridge was built to serve the kids who attend Hoover elementary and middle schools. Bargnesi said when it was  built, it also served as a crossing to the Delaware Pool, which has since been replaced by the Aquatic and Fitness Center.

"It was rusting and there were holes in the bridge itself," said Kaiser of the closure. "It was deteriorating."

Kaiser said the bridge had formally been a state bridge, but the state turned it over to the town many years ago. But despite the town owning the bridge, it is still up to the state to decide what to do with it, since it crosses a state road, said Kaiser.

Councilor Lisa M. Chimera, who is also a teacher at Hoover, said the town was quick to take action to inform the school district and Hoover "was outstanding" at informing parents about the closing before schools opened. The town also put additional crossing guards in place at Colvin Boulevard to the east and Delaware Road to the west. The new hires cost the town about $32,000.

An estimated 30 to 40 people per day were using the bridge, according to DOT estimates, but board members said they have not received complaints about the closure.

Chimera and Councilman William Conrad, a teacher at Kenmore West, said the new busing plan at Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda schools, which decreases the distance for students to be eligible for busing, has also taken off some of the pressure.

"Quite frankly, if you watch in the mornings it's amazing how many non-students use the crossing guards to get to Tim Horton's, Panera Bread, or out enjoying the weather for walking," said Bargnesi. "Delaware Road is a very busy intersection."

Bargnesi said once they know what repairs need to be made the town will decide if it has the money for the project or needs to bond. If the town should decide to replace the bridge, state funds are available through the BridgeNY program, which would cover up to 95 percent of the costs, but the town would also need to acquire some private land along Sheridan Drive to make the new bridge longer for an ADA-compliant span.

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