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Port Authority explains latest George Washington Bridge problems

Jim Hoffer has the investigation into why there are so many emergency repairs needed.
December 17, 2013 3:36:11 PM PST
It's the busiest bridge in the world, and recently the George Washington Bridge has been aggravating and infuriating commuters.

Monday night brought another massive delay. It took some 4 hours or more to go from Manhattan across the bridge to New Jersey.

This was the third time in less than a month that the bridge has failed drivers.

The first emergency closure considered one off, the second raised some angry eye-brows. But the third closure, that screams big problem, which has put tens of thousands of motorists in a foul mood and sent us looking for some answers.

Nov. 18th was 'Gotham Gridlock'. Dec. 11th, 'The Return of Gridlock'. And Monday night? 'Gridlock's Revenge.'

Tuesday, an explanation:

"Yesterday was banging and banging is a sign that things are moving and that's not what we want," said Port Authority Chief Engineer Peter Zipf.

An embarrassed Port Authority Chief Engineer detailed how an innovative way to rehab the GW's upper deck with minimum traffic disruptions has led to some of the worst congestion in years.

The $82 million project started back in June. In preparation for installing new deck panels, workers pre-cut the steel supports on the old deck slabs for easy removal. Not a problem until the recent cold weather.

"What we're finding is during the cold weather, the cold on steel, the additional trucks and plows back and forth may have added additional stress on these sections," said Zipf.

While the deck shifting poses no structural dangers, it has created deck-long potholes along the joints.

"The car tires may bang it, and the rims of the cars may damage, the driver may react, you could have different things going on on the bridge. So it's not a safe condition, and that's why the lanes were closed," said Zipf.

The Port Authority says it is reinforcing problem areas to eliminate banging and movement but there are no guarantees there won't be more emergency closures.

The installation of these new deck panels will continue until March. One bridge expert says the inconvenience is a small price to pay for safety:

"If we have to suffer some traffic jams to make them safe for travelling public that is a commitment we should all have in mind," said bridge safety expert Barry LePatner.

But sources tell us that part of the problem is construction crews got too ambitious getting too far ahead in the pre-cutting process before they were ready to install the new deck slabs.

The Port Authority says they put in nearly 80-percent of new deck before the string of problems.

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