Editorial — Who Pays? Funding repairs to the Ogdensburg Bridge an unresolved issue | editorial

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The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority received positive news from the federal government last week.

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, DN.Y., announced Thursday that he helped secure $3 million for repairs to the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge. In a press release, Schumer said the bridge carries about $4 billion worth of goods between Canada and the United States. More than 800,000 vehicles use the bridge each year to cross the border.

“Schumer stated that the $3 million he has secured for the project as part of the omnibus fiscal 2022 bipartisan spending package will fund key construction to maintain the structural integrity of the bridge,” the release reads. “The major repair project to which these funds will contribute includes the replacement of the superstructure of the US span 1 through 8 trusses, the Canadian table truss spans 18 through 23 and the Canadian span 24 through 32 trusses, as well as the cleaning and painting of the Canadian span trusses 24 to 32, main cables and the suspension cables.”

This is an excellent development. Any funding earmarked for repairs to the bridge is very welcome.

The problem is that the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge needs extensive repairs. And the cost is high: OBPA officials have estimated $100 million.

We will certainly not refuse any financial contribution to maintaining this vital link with Canada. We commend Schumer for bringing these funds to Ogdensburg.

But considering the overall picture of the bridge and its long list of needs, $3 million is a modest amount. And the cost of all necessary repairs to the bridge continues to rise.

The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge was completed in 1960 at a cost of about $22 million and funded by the state (equivalent to more than $210 million today). OBPA pays about $75,000 each year to pay off this debt ($75,000 in 1960 is $718,875 today).

The bridge is one component of the OBPA, the other two being the Port of Ogdensburg and Ogdensburg International Airport. These three qualities work together to facilitate international trade and tourism.

Unfortunately, the bridge does not generate enough revenue to sustain itself. The old debts are excessive. On this page, we previously estimated that it would be at least two centuries before OBPA pulled them back.

State Senator Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, proposed in 2016 that New York forgive that debt. We supported their plan and found that doing so would allow OBPA to use more of their revenue to make needed repairs. But her bill never arrived, so the debt remains.

It is hard to believe that the existing arrangement can continue. Finding a few million dollars here and there won’t solve the bridge’s many problems. And if a good chunk of OBPA money goes into paying down that debt every year, when are those repairs finally going to happen?

This raises the question of who should own, operate and maintain the bridge. Should it be state or federal?

Canada controls a small portion of the bridge at its end, but has generally not allocated significant funds for repairs.

We agree that the bridge is of tremendous value. But unless a key revenue stream is identified to solve most of its problems, it will continue to deteriorate. This throws the can down just a little more, a pattern that has so far yielded no constructive results.

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