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Team 12 Investigates: Port Authority ignored priority repairs on George Washington Bridge before restoration

The Port Authority ignored dozens of outstanding priority repairs on the George Washington Bridge, some for over a decade, before embarking on its current $1.9 billion restoration, a Team 12 investigation finds.

Walt Kane

Mar 23, 2022, 2:53 AM

Updated 823 days ago

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The Port Authority ignored dozens of outstanding priority repairs on the George Washington Bridge, some for over a decade, before embarking on its current $1.9 billion restoration, a Team 12 investigation finds.
Truck driver Frank Ciampi travels from New Jersey to New York and back five to six times a week, delivering materials to construction sites. On most days, he takes the George Washington Bridge. He has strong opinions about its condition.
“I think the George Washington Bridge is probably the worst bridge, and I don't think they're ever going to fix it right,” Ciampi says. 
It’s a conclusion a leading infrastructure expert finds difficult to justify.
“I do not see in this report a convincing argument that this bridge is in very good shape,” says Ahmet Emin Aktan, professor of infrastructure studies at Drexel University. He says the reports indicate “deterioration is ongoing and is getting faster.”
The December 2019 inspection identified nearly 100 outstanding priority repairs. Team 12 found some of those repairs were already outstanding a decade earlier, even though the inspection states priority repairs should “take precedence over any other scheduled work.”  
Aktan says without more consistent maintenance, bridges like the George Washington Bridge wear down prematurely, resulting in expensive restorations or replacement, with drivers footing the bill in higher tolls. The Port Authority is currently in the middle of an expensive renovation, the $1.9 billion “Restore the George” project, which includes replacing all 592 suspender ropes.
Ken Sagrestano, general manager of the George Washington Bridge, invited Senior Investigative Reporter Walt Kane on a tour of the construction site. “When you look at the type of investment we're making here at the bridge, we're going to be building infrastructure that's going to be here for the next 50 to 100 years,” he said.
But should some of that work been done sooner? Sagrestano repeatedly declined to discuss issues raised in the inspections, saying, “I haven't seen those reports or what you're talking to me about, so it's really not good for me to answer those questions.”
Senior construction engineer Ken Tripaldi said he and Sagrestano were only prepared to talk about “the work we're doing here and the great work that these people are doing every day.”
Team 12 had told the Port Authority it was doing a story about the inspections and even submitted some questions in advance.
The Port Authority eventually emailed a written statement, by chief engineer James Starace, saying, “Priority repairs are not the most significant type (and) are packaged into ongoing and new construction (and) sometimes the design and award time may push the…repair beyond the 2-year timeframe.”
But priority repairs sometimes take much longer. Of the 40 outstanding repairs identified on the upper level in 2009, only 29 were completed in the decade that followed. Among those 40 items were the deck ribs and suspender ropes, which the Port Authority is just now replacing.
Sagrestano also insisted that “prior to replacement, the suspender ropes were in good condition” and were only being replaced due to their age. But in every inspection report since 2009, the suspender ropes were actually listed in fair condition, meaning they needed priority repair.
Team 12 asked Sagrestano about that discrepancy. “I don't know exactly what you were looking at so I don't want to comment on that,” he said.


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