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With one bridge gone, stretch of Transit is still a tight squeeze

One section of Transit Road in the Village of Depew is so narrow that it can be difficult for fire trucks and other large trucks to emerge with sideview mirrors unscathed.

"I've had to scrape the sides of the bridges because people push you over," said Mayor Jesse Nikonowicz, who is also a volunteer firefighter. "It can be a taxing thing during the rush hour."

Four railroad bridges for decades have been the main obstacles to widening Transit between Gould and Walden avenues beyond its four 10-foot lanes.

One of the bridges – an abandoned Lehigh Valley Railroad overpass built in 1937 – was removed last weekend as part of a $3.3 million project by the state Department of Transportation. Transit between Walden and Gould avenues is reduced to one lane in each direction until Labor Day.

But there are no immediate plans to widen this section of Transit, which 30,000 vehicles travel upon daily.

"It's definitely something we revisit and look at," said Susan S. Surdej, the DOT's regional public information officer. "Ideally we would like to see that stretch of Transit Road wider, but the improvements we're making are certainly better than what's out there now."

Those improvements include moving the storm water drainage inlets from the curbside driving lane to the curb itself. Currently, motorists in the curbside lanes crowd the center lanes to avoid the grates.

"You're going to get the full use of the 40 feet of pavement," Surdej said. "You're still going to end up with four 10-foot lanes but they'll be real 10-foot lanes. People won't be creeping in because of the drainage inlets."

Another major project component is the addition of a center turn lane for northbound traffic making a left from Transit onto George Urban Boulevard.

"That's traditionally a bottleneck right now because if you get behind somebody turning, that whole lane backs up," Surdej said.

Other work includes milling and overlaying the 0.7-mile stretch of Transit from Terrace Boulevard north to George Urban and upgrading curb ramps at intersections for safety and ADA compliance.

The paving, drainage, curb ramps, waterline and other work accounts for $2.44 million of the $3.3 million project cost. The bridge removal cost approximately $250,000, while widening Transit at George Urban will cost $450,000.

Most of the work will be done this year, although the paving is scheduled for spring 2018.

An abandoned railroad overpass on Transit Road in Depew was removed last weekend. (Photo courtesy of the state DOT)

The four railroad bridges were all built in the late 1930s, and three remain active. The northernmost bridge, closest to Walden, carries CSX freight and Amtrak trains.

Further south, a bridge owned by Erie County and leased to the Erie County Industrial Development Agency services several businesses in the area. That bridge is scheduled for repairs to its concrete abutments as part of the state project.

Road salt and the winter freeze-thaw cycle causes spalling to the concrete, which exposes the rebar within, said Ken Swanekamp in Erie County's Department of Environment and Planning. It's not a structural issue but needs to be fixed, he added. Erie County will reimburse the state about $300,000 for the work, he said.

The southernmost bridge is owned by Norfolk Southern.

Nikonowicz and Surdej both called the former Lehigh Valley bridge an "eyesore" that needed to be taken down.

Work to remove the 10-ton girders began at 9 p.m. Saturday and continued for 30 hours until 3 a.m. Monday when the last beam was lowered. The entire operation was completed using Caterpillar Excavators.

That section of Transit will be closed again from 9 p.m. on July 8 until 5 a.m. on July 10 for removal of the bridge's concrete support structures. And with Transit otherwise reduced to one lane in either direction, Surdej advised motorists to avoid the area and use alternate routes, if possible, although she and Nikonowicz said they have not seen any major backups so far.

Talk of widening Transit goes back at least two decades, to the administration of Gov. George Pataki. But the estimated $60 million for the work hasn't been allocated.

DOT LOOKS AT TRANSIT ROAD; WIDENING IS AN OPTION

Nikonowicz agreed motorists will benefit from the improvements, but said what Transit really needs is to be widened.

"Some progress is better than no progress," he said. "It's one less bridge, one less eyesore. But it's a Band-Aid and my fear is that because it'll be cleaned up and repaved now the push to get it done will be on the back burner."

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