The Smith Point Bridge Replacement Project held a Construction Awareness Information Session on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m., in the William Floyd High School auditorium, located at 240 Mastic Beach Road, in Mastic Beach. The public meeting was hosted by a panel including Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Legis. James Mazzarella, commissioner of Suffolk County Department of Public Works Joseph Brown, P.E., and representatives from project consultant, Hardesty & Hanover (H&H). After the presentation, there was a Q&A session where those in attendance were invited to voice their questions and concerns.
The meeting was held to help build a “bridge” with the community to discuss Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works (SCDPW) plan to replace the more than 60-year-old Smith Point Bridge with a new high-level fixed bridge, built to the west of the existing bridge. It was explained that adjacent construction would maintain continuous vehicular and pedestrian access to Smith Point County Park and Fire Island. The existing bridge will then be demolished upon completion of the new bridge. It will feature amenities for the community to enjoy, such as a pedestrian path and a fishing pier. The cost is set to come to $112 million.
One of the most salient reasons for this meeting was to explain to residents why it’s so important to replace the existing bridge, despite the cost, and to assure them there would be minimal inconvenience during the duration of construction.
“It is really one of the lowest-rated bridges in the county. It’s one of the worst conditioned bridges in Suffolk County, and just from the photos alone you can see the amount of deterioration that’s out there,” said Brown during the presentation, which showed slides of the current bridge, as well as demonstrated plans for the new one.
Those in attendance learned that the plan requires a high bridge, which is west of the existing drawbridge in Shirley, connecting William Floyd Parkway to the local favorite spot, Smith Point County Park. Construction for the bridge is notable as the county’s largest infrastructure project, not including sewer and wastewater systems. The project, which is expected to be completed in 2027, will begin in mid-2024.
It was made clear that this major construction project will not impede residents’ use of the existing bridge. “It’s a very important bridge for access, for recreational purposes, and really for the whole section of the Barrier Island. It’s right next to Smith Point Marina, which is a facility with a boat launch that those from the community know is a great way to bring a boat into the bay, and we’re going to keep that open during the construction as well. Some of our contractors might be working in that area, as it’s an area that we hope to use for loading work vessels and so on, but it is an area that’s going to be kept open to the public,” Brown said.
The project will now cost significantly more than was estimated, in 2021, which was $75 million at the time, due to increasing construction costs, which have risen dramatically for such a short span. The addition of the 12-foot-wide pedestrian path will also add onto the total cost.
One of the biggest concerns for many residents was how travel and recreation would be affected during construction, so it was important to inform that construction could occur while the existing bridge is still in good enough condition to be used safely.
“The beauty of that is that by building alongside the existing bridge, we can put traffic onto the new bridge before demolishing the old one, which means traffic keeps going the whole time. At the end of the project, the existing bridge is going to be demolished. It’s going to be removed to free up that area where the footprint of the old bridge is—not only to restore the environment and footprint underneath the bridge, but also to create an area for the Parks Department to have a new recreational facility that’s in the footprint of the old bridge,” Brown explained.
About $90 million in federal funding is expected to go towards construction. While this is a sizeable cost, it certainly appears to be necessary. The Smith Point Bridge is one of the nine Long Island spans with a “poor” rating given by the state Department of Transportation. While a “Poor” rating doesn’t mean a bridge is unsafe to traverse, or at risk for a catastrophic collapse, it is indicative that it is likely to require more careful monitoring, and at more frequent intervals, as well as needing additional maintenance and repairs going forward. The bridge has already had a weight limit applied to it by the county to ensure safety due to deficiencies detected.
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