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November 17, 2019

Politics

Deterioration of a highway shoulder along Interstate-684 in the Bedford corridor.
A close-up of the surface of I-684 in the Bedford corridor. Large dolomite-type stones protrude from the concrete pavement as the cement finish is worn off by tires.
Failing concrete on a stretch of Interstate-684 known as the Bedford corridor.
A large asphalt patch on a stretch of Interstate-684 known as the Bedford corridor.
Failing asphalt on a stretch of Interstate-684 known as the Bedford corridor.

Imperfect Storm: Why Westchester's 50-Year-Old Interstates Are Crumbling

You drive them daily, and perhaps even slide off them. The busiest, fastest routes through Westchester County are considered by some engineering experts to be the most dangerous.

Here's why: Parkways, highways, state routes, interstates and some county roads were built in the 1960s using a mix of concrete and large dolomite-type stones. Over time, the pavement becomes worn out and the stone aggregates become polished, leaving a reduced friction-type surface that ponds with water during storms.

The most hazardous concrete routes include:

  • -- A high-speed stretch of Interstate-684 between Harris Road and Exit 6 in Katonah,
  • -- Route 120 near the Westchester County Airport,
  • -- A stretch of the Sprain Brook Parkway through Greenburgh,
  • -- And Interstate-95 between Port Chester and Rye Playland. 

Neighbors and motorists may recognize them by the rumbling noise of tires passing over protruded stones, chunks of concrete in the median, collapsed shoulders and a patchwork of asphalt used to temporarily fill  potholes. When it begins to rain, water ponds on the polished surface causing vehicles to hydroplane. 

For three years, Peter Nardone, a licensed professional engineer and Katonah resident, has informed state and town officials about 1.5 miles of I-684 known as the Bedford corridor near the Saw Mill River parkway interchange. "It smooths out like river rock," Nardone said.

The Bedford corridor has not been re-surfaced in almost 50 years since its construction around 1969, while all of the rest of I-684 has been surfaced with new asphalt in recent decades. Katonah and surrounding residents are reminded daily of the deteriorated roadway condition by the noise of car and truck tires passing over protruding aggregate, wide cracks and potholes.

About 15 years ago, the state Department of Transportation told the Town of Bedford that re-surfacing the roadway must await a study of entry and exit lanes at the Saw Mill River Parkway and Route 35 connections. No study has been completed.

Even if started now, the completion of an interchange study and its recommendations might take years to complete. A high-friction asphalt overlay is urgently required, according to Nardone, who said that I-684 was built using old specifications and materials. The existing pavement is worn down and has lost the majority of its cement finish and texture thereby reducing fiction, causing some motorists to lose control of their vehicles.

The pavement has many large unsafe potholes, with loose pieces of concrete that can become projectiles. Wide full-depth pavement cracks allow water to get under the surface of I-684, creating an uneven surface. Failed pavement joints have caused the concrete to break apart requiring large, temporary asphalt patches that do not hold up to heavy, high-speed traffic.

About two years ago, the state DOT was reported to have temporarily earmarked about $6 million, as announced by elected officials, to place asphalt over I-684's Bedford corridor. 

Assemblyman David Buchwald recalled: "There was a promise by NYSDOT to do repaving, and then the money was diverted to do an emergency bridge repair elsewhere in Westchester. The elected officials were not told of the diversion until months later."

In February, the Bedford Town Board passed a resolution asking state lawmakers to “include sufficient funds in the New York State budget for the long overdue repair of this dangerous stretch.” 

The good news? This week, state officials said the DOT is closer than ever to beginning major resurfacing work on the final, neglected stretch of 684: 

On May 31, Heather Pillsworth, a regional DOT spokeswoman, said, “The New York State Department of Transportation considers this project a priority and is working with the local delegation to secure sufficient resources to address the pavement renewal needs along this section of Interstate 684."

Assemblyman Buchwald added: "We are still working on it."

About 20 to 25 years ago, parts of Interstate-95 in Rye and Harrison had 100 percent concrete pavement replacement about 20 to 25 years ago. Today, there are many asphalt pot hole patches in those sections.The State Thruway Authority has done concrete slab repairs and slab replacement on sections of I-95 in Westchester over the years.

Likewise, most stretches of the Saw Mill River, Taconic State and Bronx River parkways -- originally constructed using concrete slabs -- have since been paved over with higher-friction asphalt.

This is the first in a series of articles about roads, parkways and highways in Westchester.