By LARRY ROBINSON
The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority’s recent application for a $2 million federal grant to repair the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge got support from north country U.S. Senate representatives Monday.
Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, both D-N.Y., announced Monday that they are working together to secure funding deemed critical for ongoing repairs to the bridge. In a joint press release, the senators said that they are seeking revenue for the project through the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, which provides funding for road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives.
The grant program is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
OBPA Deputy Executive Director Frederick S. Morrill said that if awarded, the $2 million TIGER grant will go a long way toward achieving the long-term goal of ensuring that the international span traversing the St. Lawrence River remains a viable commercial link between the U.S. and Canada.
“This is the way we have to go about it, like eating an elephant one bite at a time,” Mr. Morrill said.
The bridge’s 50-year-old superstructure is in dire need of repairs.
Federal funding will continue the restoration of the suspension bridge, which handles over 800,000 vehicles annually and moves billions of dollars of goods each year across the border.
The OBPA applied for the grant this spring. A spokesman for Sen. Schumer’s office said a determination on whether Ogdensburg will receive the money will occur sometime in the fall.
“The Ogdensburg-Prescott Bridge is 50 years old and aging fast, which is why it is so critical that we secure the funding that Ogdensburg needs to make necessary repairs that will ensure the bridge is safe for decades to come,” Mr. Schumer said in news release. “This federal funding will not only keep the hundreds of thousands of people that cross the bridge each and every year safe, but it will also benefit the local economy, as this rehabilitation will allow New York businesses to continue transporting goods to Canada and encourage our Canadian neighbors to visit the wonders of the north country.”
Mr. Morrill said the latest grant application to repair the international bridge in Ogdensburg is part of a long-term initiative to keep the span safe and up to date. He said $23 million was spent on bridge repairs and improvements in 2011, and that an estimated $90 million is still needed. Much of the money so far has been used to pay for lead paint removal and repainting. Of the $90 million still needed, Mr. Morrill said about half of that amount will also go for meticulously abating the old lead paint and giving the structure a more environmentally friendly coating.
Mr. Morrill said the process is painstaking because contractors can’t let any of the lead paint removed fall into the St. Lawrence River below. He said refurbishing the bridge is an expensive and long-term project.
“The problem is there isn’t just $90 million laying around for us to scarf up and use on the bridge as we need,” Mr. Morrill said.
Monday’s joint statement by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand said that specifically, the latest funding sought is earmarked for protecting the bridge’s girder spans from corrosion, strengthening support cables, replacing deteriorating spans, and repairing leaking concrete anchor piers. The project is expected to create an estimated 43 direct jobs.
“Investing in transportation infrastructure is one of the fastest and most effective ways to create jobs now, and lay the foundation for more jobs tomorrow,” Mrs. Gillibrand said in the release. “This is one of the best investments we can make for the north country region. Federal funding will make critical improvements to the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, which is heavily traveled and a central asset to our border economy.”
Mr. Morrill said the grant is matching, meaning the OBPA will be required to come up with an additional $2 million if the application is successful. He said the Bridge and Port Authority would likely use cash reserves and other funding sources to meet that requirement.