Though few will disagree that infrastructure improvements are long overdue in many communities following the belt-tightening of the Great Recession, Ulster County residents will need to plan route alternatives to cope with the many bridge construction projects scheduled for 2016. “It’s going to be a trying summer for driving in the area,” said town supervisor Marybeth Majestic at the April 12 Gardiner Town Board meeting, where a planned detour from a section of Route 44/55 was announced that seems likely to conflict with plans to replace the Carmine Liberta Bridge over the Wallkill River in New Paltz.
A team of engineers from the Region 8 Office of the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) and a project manager from Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc. announced at the meeting that the 27-foot-long concrete slab bridge spanning the Mara Kill, adjacent to the Millbrook Farm driveway, is slated for replacement this spring and summer after being “identified as scour-critical and vulnerable to flooding.” Both lanes of Route 44/55 will be closed beginning on May 5, with demolition scheduled to begin the following day and reconstruction to be completed no later than August 1: the day before the Ulster County Fair opens. The length of the construction is “restricted by curing times for concrete,” said a DOT spokesperson, adding that closing down both lanes would speed up the process and also result in a sturdier new bridge.
Many at the meeting voiced concern about the proposed detour route, which bypasses “substandard” local roads to send traffic northeast in a long loop into New Paltz via Albany Post and Libertyville Roads, then back west along Route 299. Gardiner resident Jack Habersberger pointed out that the acute left turn from Libertyville onto 299 is “not good for tractor-trailers.” “A lot of people are going to find the back roads” like Guilford Road, Majestic warned.
“Locals will know about the detour, but I’m concerned about tourist traffic,” said Gardiner Town Councilman David Dukler. He suggested posting signs at Ireland Corners directing motorists to use Route 208 instead. “We’re not doing that, diverting people through the Village of New Paltz,” the project manager demurred. “Not with the bridge in New Paltz also being replaced.”
The new Mara Kill span on Route 44/55 in Gardiner is one of seven “bundled bridges” throughout Ulster County being demolished and replaced by NYS-DOT with FEMA funding in 2016, on account of being identified as “susceptible to scour and flooding” during storm events. Work is already underway on one bridge on Route 42 in Shandaken, said the DOT representative; also scheduled for replacement this year are bridges on Route 28 in Shandaken, Route 212 in Woodstock, Route 52 in Shawangunk, Route 213 in High Falls and Route 55 in Wawarsing.