Congressman Brian Higgins

Representing the 26th District of NEW YORK
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Higgins Calls for Expedited Timeline, Flood Resistant Design for West Seneca Bridge

Jan 29, 2014
Press Release
Following a January 11 ice jam causing devastating flooding to homes in West Seneca neighborhoods, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) wrote to New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) Commissioner Joan McDonald urging an expedited start date and redesigned structure for the planned replacement of the Route 240 bridge over the Buffalo Creek in West Seneca.
 
In his letter, Higgins writes, in part: “We cannot say, with certainty, that any one environmental or design feature in this floodway caused this jam to occur, including the bridge piers.  It is reasonable to suspect, however, that these piers may have contributed to the accumulation and slowing of ice in this vicinity and may have played a role.”  
 
The bridge was scheduled for letting in 2015, but Higgins argues that the threat of future ice jams merits prioritizing the project. He also recommends redesigning the bridge to “minimize the potential contribution of the bridge’s elements to ice accumulation, including, as appropriate, a reduction in the number of piers.”  
 
Higgins previously called for an investigation into an ice jam in the Niagara River that occurred during a January 7 winter storm that led to threats of flooding in Grand Island and Niagara Falls neighborhoods. 
 
The full text of Higgins’ letter is below:
 
January 29, 2014
 
Ms. Joan McDonald
Commissioner
New York State Department of Transportation
50 Wolf Road
Albany, NY 12232
 
Re: The Bridge Conveying Route 240 Over Buffalo Creek and the January 11 Flood
 
Dear Commissioner McDonald:
 
On Saturday, January 11 of this year, an ice jam formed in the vicinity of the bridge conveying Harlem Road over the Buffalo Creek in the town of West Seneca, NY.  This ice jam resulted in severe flooding in a neighborhood 4/5 mile upstream.  An initial assessment of the damage found that thirteen homes had severe or structural damage, and an additional twenty-seven homes had significant damage to mechanical systems.  In addition to widespread basement flooding, eleven homes had their ground floors inundated according to the initial assessment.  
 
The current bridge structure has five bridge piers in the Buffalo Creek; all of the bridges downstream have either one pier or no piers.  We cannot say, with certainty, that any one environmental or design feature in this floodway caused this jam to occur, including the bridge piers.  It is reasonable to suspect, however, that these piers may have contributed to the accumulation and slowing of ice in this vicinity and may have played a role.  
 
As such, I write today to advocate that the replacement of this bridge as part of the state’s regular federal aid highway program proceed without delay; it is already slated for letting in 2015,.  I further write to advocate that the design of the new structure take into account the propensity of this stretch or river toward damaging ice jam floods, and that the new design should minimize the potential contribution of the bridge’s elements to ice accumulation, including, as appropriate, a reduction in the number of piers.  
 
According to the current regional Transportation Improvement Program document, the bridge replacement had been slated to cost approximately $12 million, and as you are aware these types of projects typically are financed with a mix of 80% federal highway aid and 20% state transportation funds.  Additional costs associated with making the bridge more flood-resilient may be an eligible use of some of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding which have been made available for the state to use state-wide as a result of hurricanes Sandy and Irene.  HMGP is a federal program administered through FEMA which helps finance the upgrade of public infrastructure to reduce the risk of damage from future natural disasters.
 
Thank you very much for your leadership and your consideration.
 
Sincerely,
 
Brian Higgins
Member of Congress