Maybe you have been jogging on the Corning Trail along Albany’s riverfront. Maybe you’ve taken a bike ride with a close friend or maybe you just sat on one of the many benches to enjoy a cold beverage and get out of a sweltering apartment. If you paid a visit recently to the stretch of trail that runs between the boat launch and the Patroon Island Bridge, you were greeted by a mound of dirt, a bulldozer, and construction crews driving vehicles alongside and on to the path itself.
In recent weeks, construction on nearby I-787, I-90, and the Patroon Island Bridge has spilled into the Corning Preserve, and soon a section of the preserve will serve as a staging area for crews working on the bridge.
The bridge repairs are part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY Works program. The three-year project involves repairs to the bridge and all of the ramps of the I-90 interchange with I-787. Work includes replacing the bridge decks and strengthening the structure to meet current seismic requirements.
“A lot of people use the path, even during lunch,” said Mike Franchini of the Capital District Transportation Committee. The CDTC is a federally mandated organization that deals with transportation plans and programs. Because work on the Patroon Island Bridge is part of a repair project and not new construction, the CDTC was not involved in discussions concerning the project, according to Franchini.
Earlier this week, approximately 500 meters of orange construction fence lined the trail near the bridge. Behind it heavy equipment operators worked a bulldozer and steamroller to create an access road from I-787 to the base of the bridge. Clouds of dust generated from the process swarmed bicyclists and joggers on the nearby path as the machinery flattened the earth.
“It’s the best access site,” said New York State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carol Breen. Currently, construction crews are forced to drive along the bike trail, and the access road will allow them to move from I-787 directly to the work site. According to Breen, the DOT plans to return the Corning Preserve to its original state once the work is completed.
“We are unaware of this [construction],” said Martin Daley of Parks and Trails New York, a statewide advocacy group with an office located in Albany.
During a July 15 telephone interview, Nicholas J. D’Antonio, the commissioner for the City of Albany Department of General Services, said he was also unaware of the changes made to the Corning Preserve. The DGS is the city agency that oversees the Corning Preserve.
The DOT did issue a press statement concerning the project on May 31. The statement on the $145.8 million project made no mention of the preserve. An environmental impact study was not mentioned either.
Breen said that the bike trail along the Hudson River will remain open during the course of the project. Construction crews at the work site insist that safety of people using the trail is a major concern. They plan to install a chain link fence soon to separate parkgoers from the construction, said one of the workers, who asked to remain anonymous.
Many questions still remain about the project, but one thing seems certain: For the next three years, people using the Corning Trail will have to live with the construction and all that goes with it.