The Carmine Liberta Memorial Bridge of New Paltz that carries Route 299 over the Wallkill River at the foot of Main Street is set to be demolished and rebuilt next year.
This overpass is the only direct route to the west side of the river from the village. County Executive Mike Hein has vowed to have a temporary, two-lane bridge installed just north of the existing structure to keep this heavily-trafficked roadway open during construction. This will avoid forcing motorists to take lengthy detours through Gardiner or Rosendale in order to access the opposite side of the structure, he said.
Although the bridge itself is currently safe for motorist usage, the growing age of this 75-year-old steel truss is enough to prompt its replacement, according to Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle.
“We recognize that the bridge is near the end of its useful life,” Doyle said. “Rather than risking a closure in the future, we want to move proactively to make sure that we could do work on the bridge while still keeping the road open.”
A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) formed by Hein consisting of citizens, government officials and business owners met March 11 to discuss preliminary details of the planning process of the project. The CAC’s purpose is to promote community involvement and representation during this time where decisions are being made regarding an integral part of the locality, Hein said.
“We’ve dealt with many bridge projects and the last thing I wanted to see was the community, tourists, businesses, students and all residents impacted negatively by a closure,” Hein said.
One member of the CAC, Transportation Implementation Committee Chairwoman Gail Gallerie, said she thinks that the temporary bridge will prove economically sound for the community since local businesses on either side of the bridge will still be easily accessible.
“If current users of the bridge needing to reach points west of the bridge had to drive through Gardiner or Tillson/Rosendale, businesses would suffer very significantly because of the volume of cars that wouldn’t be passing by them,” Gallerie said. “Businesses along Main Street would [also] feel the impact since the detour routes would divert drivers off of Main Street in large measure or entirely.”
Other topics on the table with the committee are discussing which style of bridge will be best for the area, the potential for it to be solar-lighted and the addition of designated pedestrian and cyclist lanes.
Hein said it is in the works to maximize pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility in the area — which in turn may call for two separate bridges.
“The new bridge may incorporate significant pedestrian usage on it. Another choice is to place a pedestrian bridge on the same abutments of the temporary structure after the new bridge is open,” Hein said.
The CAC is expected to finish their advisory work this June or July, which will allow the county to then review the design and approval processes. The new bridge is planned to be finished during late fall of 2016 and is estimated to cost between $1.7 million and $2.5 million in county funding.
“We had an advisory committee once before for [a previous New Paltz project] and they were helpful in ensuring that needs of the community were met as the county went through with that project — and we’re looking for similar success here,” Doyle said.
This gateway over the river is no stranger to construction — this new bridge would mark the fourth structure to be erected in the same area in two centuries. Before the current bridge was built in 1940, two other bridges had served the community: a wooden covered bridge in 1845 and later an iron bridge in 1891. The bridge was formerly known as County Bridge No. 135 until 2008, when it was officially named after longtime New Paltz resident and Korean War veteran Carmine Liberta, who had actively organized veterans’ affairs in the area.
“It’s a unique opportunity for the community to participate in one of its signature buildings,” Doyle said. “This is an iconic view for New Paltz and making sure that we can meet the needs of the community not only in terms of its vistas but also in terms of its mobility is very important.”
The County Executive’s Office will be hosting a second meeting on April 8 at 1 p.m. at the New Paltz Community Center to further discuss the project.