Warren County leaders thought the long-awaited replacement for the shuttered Middleton Bridge between Bolton and Warrensburg was finally going to happen when the state’s voters approved a “land bank” nearly 18 months ago that would help clear the way for the project.
Creation of the land bank will allow municipalities to use state forest preserve land for infrastructure projects, provided replacement land is put into the preserve elsewhere, with less red tape. The area designated for the replacement bridge over the Schroon River would cross state forest preserve land between Schroon River Road and East Schroon River Road, north of the Middleton Bridge.
But the state Legislature has not yet taken the necessary steps to set aside the 250 acres of land that is needed to create the land bank, so projects such as Warren County’s, are still in a holding pattern. And that delay resulted in the funding window on the Warren County bridge project closing last year.
With the help of state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, county leaders were able to get the state to extend the project funding window, so money will be available through 2023. But there is still significant design, planning and land purchases to get done before construction can occur, and with the land bank still in limbo, county leaders have been frustrated.
And county Public Works Superintendent Kevin Hajos said the county has to obtain the right of way for the project by August 2021.
“The voters of the state voted for this. Why hasn’t it happened yet?” Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty asked.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, was part of a group of county leaders who traveled to Long Island earlier this week to meet with a senior state legislator to try to figure out why the land bank legislation has not advanced.
Simpson said they met with state Assemblyman Steve Engelbright, who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee that has overseen the land bank legislation, to explain the urgency that Warren County has in getting the bridge replacement project completed.
Simpson said Engelbright, when told of the delay with the bridge project, said he would take steps to get the legislation moving.
“I think we are in a better place right now, but we have a ways to go,” Simpson said.
The single-lane, century-old Middleton Bridge closed for safety reasons in 2009, creating a detour to county Route 11 or county Route 31 to cross the river and access homes and businesses in Horicon. That slows emergency vehicle response to the area, and affects businesses such as Ridin’-Hy Ranch.
“This is a health and safety issue,” Simpson said.
Stec said he believed Gov. Andrew Cuomo should step in to get the land bank legislation moving, as it appeared a debate over other Adirondack legislation was stalling progress on it.
“The voters voted on the land bank. What is left to talk about?” he said. “I can understand why local government folks are frustrated. I’m hoping this will get done this session.”