Ben's Bridge still standing one year later

Demolition plans creep forward to a spring 2011 start

One year ago, residents in the southern portion of Bethlehem were dealt a shock when Albany County officials closed the Route 53 bridge over the CSX Selkirk rail yard due to its deteriorating condition. Today, plans to remove the span entirely are proceeding, with no intent to rebuild it.

The demolition process is on track to begin in the spring of 2011, said Albany County Director of Operations Michael Franchini, and consultant Clough Harbour and Associates is working on the detailed plans.

That involves working very closely with CSX to determine the best way to do the work and not interfere with the operations in the rail yard itself, he said. "It's a relatively complicated process."

The 11,000-foot span will be disassembled piece by piece, a process that should take until the fall to complete. The estimated cost is $1.8 million, up from original estimates made a year ago. Franchini said that's partly due to more accurate information coming out of the design process and partly due to rising costs.

The bridge on Old School Road"commonly known as Ben's Bridge"was closed to traffic July 6, 2009. The county, which owns the bridge, said the bridge was unstable and thus unsafe, and pointed residents to detours along routes 32 and 396, which can add miles to the trip northward from parts southern Bethlehem.

South Bethlehem resident Paul Miller said his commute to the state offices complex to the north has increased in length due to the closure, but that he's more concerned about what the delay could mean for emergency responders going to South Bethlehem or the rail yard itself.

"It's not just a matter of convenience," said Miller, who is a volunteer firefighter with Selkirk Fire Co. 3. "You need to have maximum flexibility of how you get around that yard and through it in an emergency situation."

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