Is the Throgs Neck Bridge safe?

February 26, 2008 8:56:30 PM PST
Eyewitness News launched an investigation into one of New York's busiest bridges, the Throgs Neck. It also has one of the worst inspection records in the state.And when the Eyewitness News Investigators tried to find out why, the MTA put up all kinds of roadblocks.

What is the MTA hiding?

Jim Hoffer has the story.

That is exactly the question The Investigators spent the last seven months trying to find out.

The MTA says it's not hiding anything, but rather protecting the bridge's security.

However, other agencies have given us complete inspection reports. So why is the MTA keeping their reports in the dark?

After the sudden collapse of a bridge in Minnesota last August, we wanted to look at the condition of one of New York's most traveled and troubled bridges.

We filed formal documents requesting the latest inspection report. Seven months later, the MTA sent us sketches with scant information that explains very little. In fact, the agency cited security concerns and refused to give us the red flag safety reports that shed light on any serious bridge conditions.

"The red flags are the most concerns, because they require prompt evaluation," NJIT engineer Walter Konon said.

The throgs neck had 73 of these serious red-flagged conditions in its recent inspection. That's more than the Whitestone, Brooklyn Bridge, Verrazano and Tappan Zee bridges combined.

"Seventy-three red flags," Konon said. "It's certainly a concern, but we don't know if it's very serious or not that serious. There's no way to tell at this point."

Hoffer: "Why would you withhold that information from the public?" MTA Bridges and Tunnels President David Moretti: "Again, it's for security reasons, based on the advice of counsel."

Moretti says bridge security is more important than the public's right to know.

Hoffer: "There's no way of knowing precisely what kind of problems these flagged conditions represent." Moretti: "Well, but again, I keep coming back to the point that when there were conditions identified, we took the appropriate actions to repair the red flags."

That action included a temporary ban on oversized trucks during the day to lessen the stress on the bridge. We obtained a 2005 court document in which an MTA engineer talked about the need for such a ban back then because, "There is a risk that cracking could lead to the loss of a floorbeam and the catastrophic collapse of a 191-foot long span on the bridge approaches."

It's impossible to know the current conditions of fatigue cracks on the Throgs Neck, since the MTA refuses to release those documents. We do know the daytime ban on oversized trucks was recently lifted following repair work. All trucks, however, must still travel in the middle lane and at a restricted speed of 30 miles per hour, a clear indication that concerns are still present.

Unlike the MTA, the state Department of Transportation had no problem releasing detailed flagged conditions on the Kosciuszko Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Queens.

They released photographs of the cracks and corrosion.

John Liu, who chairs the City Council's transportation committee, says the MTA should do the same.

"It's hard to accept the security excuse as the reason to withhold information, when, in fact, other agencies give the exact same kind of info," he said.

The MTA refused to do that, and the question is why? Why leave the public in the dark about one of the city's busiest and lowest-rated bridges?

"The MTA, as well as other agencies, will always say the bridge is safe," Liu said. "A bridge is always safe until it falls down and people die."

The MTA insists the Throgs Neck is safe and it says it has spent millions to do so. The bridge's overall rating is considered fair, but the main span borders on a poor rating and is one of the lowest of all city bridges.

Eyewitness News is appealing the MTA's denial of turning over these records.

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