Construction on the Barnum Island Bridge, a major artery between Oceanside, Island Park and Long Beach, has hit a delay, according to county officials.
The roughly $8.3 million project, which began in December 2016, was originally six months ahead of schedule and on track for completion this winter, according to County Legislator Denise Ford, but because of weeks of delays in the pouring of concrete, the construction is scheduled to be completed by June. The original finish date was set for April.
“We were hoping, and basically on track, to finish it sooner rather than later,” Ford told the Herald in an interview. “And that’s where the heartbreak is.”
The delay, she said, mostly stemmed from the unplanned installation of a fiber optic cable linking traffic signals in Island Park and on the Long Beach barrier island to control centers at the county Department of Public Works. “This was something that was not part of the original project,” she said, adding that Grace Industries, the contractor hired by the county to reconstruct the bridge, had to delay the pouring of the concrete deck on the northbound side of the span in order to run the cable.
But Ford said a two-week pause in June, during which the county explored ways to accommodate a local business affected by the construction, also contributed to the delay.
The business was Peter’s Clam Bar, according to owner Butch Yamali, who had called a meeting that month with local business owners and county officials to ask for a pause in the construction over the summer. Because of his request, he said, the county gave him a lighted sign directing traffic to Peter’s, and additional parking in front of the eatery, but the accomodations did little to alleviate traffic disruptions caused by the project, particularly after the northbound side of the bridge — directly in front of Peter’s — was closed in August.
“They gave me an illuminated sign,” Yamali said. “But try to pull into that restaurant and you’ll get into a serious accident.”
He had told the Herald in September that business was down this past summer — peak months for Peter’s — 40 to 50 percent, and that he had lost roughly $1 million in revenue compared to previous years. As a result, Peter’s manager Pepe Poblador said the business was forced to cut restaurant workers’ hours. Peter’s employs roughly 50 people.
Jeff Kalibat, owner of K&K Outboard, Inc. next to Peter’s on Long Beach Road, who was present at the June meeting, said in an interview that he had been concerned by Yamali’s request and the county’s promise. “Do you realize what these two weeks could mean?” he said he told a colleague, but acknowledged that he understood Yamali’s viewpoint. “I’m not going to begrudge another owner,” he said. “He’s in business also.”
Pouring concrete during the winter months, Ford explained, posed a number of regulatory and cost obstacles. According to state Department of Transportation regulations, the county must receive special permission to pour during the period between Nov. 1 and April. 1. Additionally, because temporary humidity and temperature-controlled enclosures would have to be built to facilitate proper curing, Ford said it would add an additional $750,000 to the project’s price tag.
Yamali countered that this past winter has been particularly mild, and that there have been days when wearing a light jacket outside sufficed. “If they wanted to finish it they’d finish it,” he said, and responding to the accusation that he may have been partially responsible for the delay, he said, “No, it’s impossible.”
The bridge was built in 1925, and rebuilt in 1988. It was inspected six years ago and found to have structural problems, according to Mary Studdert, a spokeswoman for the county DPW. Kalibat said that although his business was also suffering because of the project, he was aware the bridge was crumbling. “It was in bad shape,” he said. “There was no choice. It had to get fixed.”
Studdert wrote in an email that the delay had so far not resulted in increases to the project’s budget and that it was more than 80 percent complete. She added that the federal government would reimburse the county for up to 80 percent of the cost for construction, and the rest would be paid through capital funds.
Weather permitting, she wrote, both sides of the bridge will open to traffic on May 16, ahead of final completion. But for Yamali, the day can’t come soon enough.
“When I bought Peter’s after Sandy, I brought it back to business,” he said. “Now they’re gonna put me back out of business.”