Open rivet holes, patches of rust and chunks of steel on the verge of flaking off can be spotted on the main support beams of the Quogue Bridge by boaters traveling underneath the 73-year-old drawbridge, which was closed last month for extensive repairs.
These signs of corrosion are the driving force behind Suffolk County’s ongoing $3.1 million renovation project on the drawbridge that connects Post Lane with the oceanfront and the multimillion-dollar homes that overlook it. The work, which the Suffolk County Department of Public Works began in November and is expected to keep the bridge closed until Memorial Day, will consist of cement and steel replacement, electrical rehabilitation and mechanical work, along with various other touch-ups and repairs.
The bridge did not receive any red flags, which necessitate immediate action for safety reasons, during its most recent inspection by the State Department of Transportation, nor did it receive any yellow flags, which indicate a troubled area in need of work in the near future. However, according to a copy of the August 2012 report obtained by The Press through a Freedom of Information Act request, primary and secondary parts of the bridge’s superstructure were deemed to be in need of repair or replacement.
During state inspections, which take place every other year, each part of the bridge is evaluated on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 reflecting critically bad conditions and 7 meaning that a bridge is new, DOT spokeswoman Eileen Peters said Tuesday. The Quogue Bridge received predominantly 5s and 6s, but was also given a few 3s and 4s when it came to the pavement on top of the bridge and the iron superstructure below. Those grades mean the questionable components should be replaced or repaired. Overall, the bridge earned a weighted average of 4.667.
Although the structural integrity of the drawbridge was never compromised, according to the 2012 report, the areas most in need of rehabilitation—the superstructure beams that earned a rating of 3 on the state scale—carried the same poor ratings in the previous inspection two years prior.
“If the bridge wasn’t safe, we would have closed it [earlier],” Ms. Peters said. “While the bridge might have had some structurally issues or it might be out of date, it was still safe to drive on.” She added that no one piece of the bridge was in dire enough shape to call for an immediate closure in 2012.
Kyle Swaringen, an associate civil engineer with the Suffolk County DPW, said this week that perhaps some of the issues should have been addressed sooner. He also noted that it is not uncommon for issues to take a few years to be addressed after they’ve been identified.
“It’s not going to affect the area of operation for the bridge or the load capacity, so we were able to wait,” Mr. Swaringen said Tuesday regarding the superstructure problems identified at least three years earlier. “It takes a few years for the money to get into the system and get the job out to bid.”
Built to replace its predecessor, which was destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938, the Quogue Bridge was opened in 1940 at a cost of $262,677. In today’s dollars, the project would have cost some $4.4 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator.
The ongoing work is the second major reconstruction project in the bridge’s history, with the first being a $4.4 million overhaul that took place between 1989 and 1992. That project included replacing submarine cables, electrical rehabilitation and the installation of new sheeting, according to data obtained from the Department of Public Works under the same FOIA request. Since then, the drawbridge has received minor repairs on two occasions—$251,000 in repairs in 1999 and a $270,000 paint job in 2001.
Mr. Swaringen said the reason the current work necessitates that the bridge be shut down to all traffic for six months is because the extensive electrical and mechanical work will require the drawbridge to remain open. He also said the Quogue Canal must be kept open to water traffic, which limits how the work can be carried out.
“If it was a fixed bridge that wasn’t movable then we could probably leave it open and just close down one lane at a time,” he said.
Having two bridges nearby in Westhampton Beach Village that Dune Road residents could easily access also contributed to the decision to close the bridge entirely, he added.
Ms. Peters said, unsurprisingly, that the reason the bridge’s superstructure was so corroded was because of its constant exposure to saltwater.
“That’s the price we pay living around the water,” she said. “We want to get to the oceans and to the beaches, so this is bound to happen. Steel is very strong, but over time saltwater has its way with steel.”