It’s a small bridge, rebuilt in 1941, but it carries a massive load of vehicular and cycling traffic across the north-flowing Wallkill River. It is the “gateway” to the Village of New Paltz and the sole east-west (vehicular) connection from the village to a large residential section of the Town of New Paltz, the Shawangunk Ridge, the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park, the Ulster County Pool, the Field of Dreams, Mohonk Mountain House, the Wallkill View Farm Market and a host of eco-tourism, passive and active recreation destinations. Yet, some fear that the bridge is, at the least, in need of a serious paint job and at the worst, could have structural strain that will only get worse if there is not preemptive action by local and county officials.
Even a cursory and non-professional inspection of the bridge — which is dedicated to the late Carmine Liberta — shows a lot of rust, holes in the steel and erosion of the buttress, as well as peeling paint and graffiti. Rich Gottlieb, owner of Rock and Snow in downtown New Paltz, expressed these concerns, as well as hopes that local and county officials might take any necessary action to ensure that the bridge is painted and, more importantly, safe, in a Letter to the Editor and then in more detail to the New Paltz Times.
“My concern is that right now we need a paint job, as this is the ‘entrance’ to our village and this is zoned as a Gateway District. What does that say to people who are visiting? A gateway or an entrance reveals the health of a community,” said Gottlieb, who has always been actively involved in numerous civic activities, providing his parking lot for the annual farmers’ market, supporting and co-hosting many local charity endeavors, as well as being the owner of an anchor store in downtown New Paltz that has served local and visiting outdoor enthusiasts for more than 40 years.
Gottlieb’s deeper concern is that “If there are structural issues that need to be taken care of, I’d like to see those issues dealt with now, and not wait until the bridge is in need of massive repairs and has to be shut down or partially shut down, like what happened in Rosendale,” referring to the bridge over the Rondout Creek that took a year-and-a-half to repair and renovate, requiring one-lane traffic and a stoplight. Rosendale had more than a half-dozen businesses close during the repair of the bridge, and Gottlieb is afraid that if we do not take “preemptive” action, it could happen to the Carmine Liberta Bridge as well. That would, in his estimation, be “catastrophic to local businesses on either side of the bridge.”
Mike Newman, owner of the Bicycle Depot, just a stone’s throw from the bridge, concurred with Gottlieb’s concerns. “Whenever we have a flood and the bridge is closed, our business suffers. I can’t imagine a prolonged one-lane repair, when we have so many residents and tourists traveling back and forth, and they are delayed and rerouted.”
In an effort to get some answers as to the structural integrity of the bridge and what work plans may or may not be in store and what that timeline might be, Gottlieb reached out to town supervisor Susan Zimet, Ulster County executive Mike Hein and county legislator Hector Rodriguez (D-New Paltz), but has “yet to get a response thus far.” While Supervisor Zimet did not return numerous calls and inquiries from the New Paltz Times, councilwoman Kitty Brown did, saying, “My husband and I kayaked underneath the bridge recently, and it was pretty scary. It looks like some of the buttress is cracked. We need our legislators to work with us to have a safety inspection done.”