ROYALTON — The state Department of Transportation estimates the cost of repairing the Wruck Road bridge at $2 million and it’s not planning to foot the bill.

In a meeting Wednesday with DOT officials, town Supervisor Cal Rhoney said he was told “it’s not in the near future for the state to rehabilitate the bridge and open it back up to vehicular traffic.”

The 100-year-old bridge has been in a compromised condition for some time, according to DOT spokeswoman Susan Surdej, and the state Canal Corp. agreed previously to maintain it only until the end of its useful life.

“We’re at that point now,” Surdej said. “There currently is no funding in place” to revive it.

DOT is suggesting a couple alternatives, Rhoney said. The bridge could be sold to a private individual for canal attraction development or historical purposes, or the town could scrape together money to help with rehab and agree to take over the bridge afterward.

Considering the town’s cash-strapped condition of late, and the fact that it doesn’t possess the needed equipment to maintain a canal bridge, that doesn’t seem doable, Rhoney said. Nonetheless, he plans on calling a meeting of residents and DOT officials sometime after mid-August to hash it over. The DOT officials have agreed to attend.

“To me, the question is how much tax tolerance do the residents want to have? But, obviously, there are other points of view out there,” Rhoney said. “We have to make that decision as a town.”

Property owner challenging state

After the bridge was closed April 19, petitions of objection were passed around the community by the Royalton-Hartland Business Association and Valerie Peters, a nearby homeowner and business owner.

To date, Peters has collected more than 500 signatures on a petition asking the state to reconsider the closing because of the inconvenience it’s caused locals in her far-flung rural neighborhood. For affected residents, she said, the bridge was the quickest connection between routes 31 and 104, provided the fastest access to the Royalton town hall and was used by ambulance services.

The canal-crossing alternatives, the Carmen and Slayton Settlement bridges, are distant and the Slayton Settlement bridge, with four approaches and blind-spot turns, can be harrowing at times, Peters added.

“The (Wruck Road) bridge is our means of living here, our business, our everything,” she said. “We pay a lot of taxes here. Why doesn’t that mean something (to the state)?”

Peters disagrees that Royalton should be asked to pick up the repair and maintenance tab for a state bridge and said she plans to approach her town government, Hartland, about helping change the state’s mind. Her petition is still going at her shop, Vast Specialties/Steve’s Collision, and at Drum Oil, for anybody who wants to sign on.

DOT: At what cost?

In the DOT/Canal Corp. scheme of things, the Wruck Road bridge apparently is deemed a low priority because of its traffic count. The last count done, in 2001, showed average daily crossing by 665 vehicles, according to DOT data technician Rich Jablonski.

“It’s a relatively low number,” he said. “We’ve got a number of (canal) bridges with traffic counts in the thousands and tens of thousands.”

DOT prioritizes bridge rehabilitation projects based on the numbers, according to Surdej.

“We want to get bang for our buck. We put the money where it serves the most traffic and does the most good,” she said.

Petitions and letters supporting rehabilitation could help the cause, Surdej suggested.

“There’s a lot of community support for keeping this bridge open and we are aware of that,” she said. “It’s certainly worth sending (petitions) in.”

The bridge is closed because of a DOT finding that the floor beams are deteriorated to the point where they can’t support the deck. Also, the cement piers on either side appear to need reinforcement or replacement and the land beneath the piers may be eroding, Rhoney said.

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