BY BILL BUELL
NISKAYUNA — Skip Smith can’t quite visualize how things are actually going to look, but he’s fairly certain he’s going to be OK with the new surroundings.
“I’m excited about it, and while I don’t have a choice, I think it’s a pretty good idea,” said Smith, referring to the new Rexford Bridge over the Mohawk River and the Route 146 roundabout in the town of Niskayuna that should be completed by December 2017. “I think it will really help the traffic flow.”
A family business since the early 1950s, Smith’s Automotive is at 2867 Aqueduct Road, and each time state officials have built a new bridge to cross the Mohawk (in 1964 and this year) the structure gets closer and closer to Smith’s property. Of course since the Erie Canal aqueduct was created, there have been only four major projects over the river, but the roundabout, to be built on the south side of the Mohawk, throws a couple of curves into the picture.
“I love roundabouts, but I can’t quite see this one in my mind,” said Smith. “They’re closing my one entrance; our entrance is going to be up the street a bit, so it looks like they’re cutting it kind of close. But I still think it’s a good idea. I just hope we can make it through all the work being done.”
The current bridge, completed in 1965, will remain open during construction. It carries more than 22,000 vehicles a day, according to the state Department of Transportation, and getting over the two-lane span during rush hour, mornings or afternoons, can take commuters quite a while. Helping to alleviate the problem, the new bridge will be four lanes, on both sides of the Mohawk, as well as turning lanes. The new bridge will go up just west of the current one.
“Since our October meeting, we’ve tweaked the design slightly in some areas,” said DOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani, referring to a packed-house public gathering at the McLane Hose Company in Rexford. “In some areas we previously showed ‘hatched’ striping between the northbound and southbound lanes along Route 146 near Main Street in Rexford. That lane that was formerly shown as ‘hatched’ will be largely changed to a two-way turn lane.”
Along with the new bridge, the roundabout, intersection improvements and the widening of Route 146 in Niskayuna and Clifton Park, the project also includes a multiuse trail (for cyclists and pedestrians), which will connect the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail on the south side of the span to Riverview Road on the north.
“I think people are happy to see the problems with the Rexford bridge are being dealt with,” said Bob Winchester, a retired Niskayuna teacher who lives in the hamlet of Alplaus in Schenectady County, just west of Rexford. “When you’re sitting on that bridge in traffic and a truck goes by the other way your whole car shakes, and not just a little bit.”
The bridge also has plenty of potholes according to Winchester, and while he hasn’t ridden his bicycle lately, if he was he wouldn’t think of crossing the river at Rexford.
“If you’re walking or on your bike, crossing the bridge is treacherous,” he said. “To know they’re going to replace the deck and put up walking lanes on both sides is great news.”
Phil Barrett, supervisor for the town of Clifton Park, said the project seems to be moving ahead just fine.
“Our priority is for a safe bridge that allows for efficient travel while minimizing aspects to the surrounding areas,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that the DOT has been very attentive to the concerns raised by our citizens, and the public meetings have been very helpful. I know what they’re doing is a very challenging job.”
Many trees have already been cleared on both sides of the river, and significant construction work — being done by Tioga Construction of Utica and AECOM USA of New York City, will begin in April according to the DOT.
“This is a $32.5 million design-build project,” said Viggiani. “Prospective contractors were judged based on cost and the quality of their proposals, including their ability to deliver a high-quality project on or ahead of schedule.”
The east exit/entrance of the roundabout across from Aqueduct Road will be Williams Street, while East Street, just a few yards south up Route 146, will be closed off. That leaves just one way out for those residents living in that area because Williams Street leads into Middle Street, which dead ends.
“The people who live up in the flats and the cliffs in Niskayuna had their concerns, but the DOT had a special meeting for those residents at our town hall,” said town of Niskayuna supervisor Joe Landry. “East Street will be closed except for emergencies, so I imagine those people still may have some concerns, but the DOT has been very helpful. There’s probably going to be some skepticism until it’s all done.”
Landry said his residents are just as happy as those living across the river to see the new bridge and roundabout being built.
“When Niskayuna people head north to watch their sports teams play Shenendehowa, Saratoga and Burnt Hills, we have to cross that bridge,” he said. “We believe it’s going to help the traffic flow, we believe it’s going to be safer, and whether you’re heading north into Saratoga County or coming to Niskayuna, you’re going to be happy about the new infrastructure. It’s going to be a huge benefit for everybody.”