MAINTENANCE OR TRAGEDY

The long fiscal crisis that municipalities have endured is leading to a lack of maintenance on roads and bridges. This lack of maintenance has translated to tragedies that cost these municipalities millions in jury verdicts and settlements. The cost of paying for these tragedies far outweighs the cost of road and bridge repairs.

On July 9, 2006, a devastating cross over collision occurred on the Bronx River Parkway resulting in 6 deaths and severe brain damage to the sole survivor of the cross over accident. The Bronx River Parkway had a substandard and inadequate barrier separating opposite lanes of traffic. 19 years earlier a fatal cross over accident occurred at the same area of the Bronx River Parkway. Both the City and State of New York did nothing to fix the barrier. The barrier was so old that it failed to meet present standards as to its height and curvature. The car mounted a 2 foot concrete median barrier (far shorter than the present barriers). After the car hit the barrier it was catapulted some 200 feet on the opposite side of the road. The driver and 5 passengers in the vehicle died and 1 passenger sustained a head injury that caused brain damage.

The substandard barrier was reproduced at trial along with a standard barrier. After 12 weeks of trial where the injured and death cases were tried, experts proved that if the barrier was a standard barrier, taller than the one that was on the parkway, the crossover would not have occurred. The standard barriers have been used for decades to prevent such accidents. However, the City and State of New York failed to replace the barrier after a fatal accident 19 years earlier. The reason was because both the City and State of New York were economically pressed and the barrier was not changed. After 12 weeks of trial, the sole survivor, a student athlete who sustained brain damage, settled his case for $18,000,000 dollars. The death cases were also settled and the City and State of New York paid a combined $22,074,000 and the van’s insurance company paid $120,000. The cost of replacing the short 2 foot barriers would have been far less costly than the City and State of New York sharing the payoff of $22+ million. Thus, an economic consultant in failing to fix the barrier resulted in an economic payout in the millions, to say nothing about the loss of 6 lives and a brain damaged passenger.

On July 16, 2013, the Journal News headlined an article “Number of structurally deficient spans grows – Bad Bridges“. The first example used was a bridge that carries 10th Avenue traffic, automobiles and pedestrians, over the New Haven line railroad tracks which is owned by Metro-North railroad. This bridge is one of the 9 spans in Mount Vernon alone that New York State inspectors have deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Seven of these bridges are owned by Metro-North. The bridge over 10th Avenue is closed.

The newspapers reviewed New York State Department of Transportation’s inventory of bridges and found the number of structurally deficient bridges grew by 18 to a total of 2,073 deficient bridges. The article points out that New York has 17,484 bridges and 623 of those are at least 100 years old. Across the lower Hudson Valley, there are 51 problem bridges, 23 are structurally deficient and 28 are functioning obsolete. In 2011, 52 bridges were flagged according to the New York State Department of Transportation as “structurally deficient”. Bridges are deteriorating or damaged and will likely need significant maintenance or repair. A bridge is functionally obsolete if it is not designed to manage the current traffic that travels over it (narrow lanes with no shoulders). A number of these “obsolete bridges” are near or over reservoirs in Putnam and Westchester counties and are owned and maintained by The New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Most of these bridges date to the 1900’s.

In Rockland County, several bridges along Route 59 in Clarkstown were replaced in 2011 as part of a $30.2 million project that raised a portion of the road to ease flooding. The old spans were rated at 3.46 and now, they are all rated 7 or 6.9. Rockland County owns 77 bridges and is aggressively replacing them.

Mount Vernon on the other hand, has 7 bridges owned by Metro-North that have been left to deteriorate and close. In addition to the 10th Avenue bridge, Metro-North has closed its 3rd Avenue bridge. In 2011, the railroad replaced the Park Avenue bridge in Mount Vernon at the cost of $10.5 million. Metro-North claims the problem is that the railroad works with the DOT, but the local municipalities have responsibility for the bridge structure. (In Mount Vernon, both entities claim limited Federal funding). What will it take? Close all bridges of Metro-North in Mount Vernon or wait for a bridge collapse and tragedy!

The article points out that the DOT has a “preservation first” approach that focuses on maintenance and rehabilitation of bridges to keep them in good shape without spending money for new bridges. DOT states $230,000,000 in New York State money went to replace roadway decks on 115 bridges last year. The reason for the tremendous costs is that the New York metropolitan area has the oldest infrastructure in the country and the heaviest used. A prescription for tragedy, and millions of dollars going to victims of bridge collapses or insufficient bridges.

If you have been injured as a result of lack of maintenance on roads or bridges, call the Law Firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.