Hoping The South Fork Doesn’t Come Loose

The Long Island Railroad is going to be repairing numerous railroad bridges in and around the Shinnecock Canal over the next 10 months, including their Shinnecock Canal Bridge, which directly crosses the canal. This railroad bridge, along with two auto highway bridges, the North Highway Bridge and the Montauk Highway Bridge, are the only structures, besides some underground steel cables, that cross the Shinnecock Canal and securely hold the South Fork from drifting off from the mainland of Long Island, so it is very important, whenever work is done on any of the three bridges, that it be done with careful planning aforethought because of the stresses that it puts on the other two. [expand]

The plan to repair the railroad bridges has been in the planning stages since September and $26.2 million in funding has been secured from the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Perhaps the biggest change for two of the bridges, one over North Road on the east side of the canal and the bridge crossing over the Montauk Highway near East Tiana Road on the west side of the canal, will be their heights above the road below. Both bridges will have their clearances raised by five inches, so larger trucks and busses will be able to pass under them.

It is expected that once repaired, these bridges will not need further repair for another 40 years. No delays in railroad schedules will take place during the construction, although at certain times busses will replace train service between various locations. On the other hand, there will be considerable disruption to vehicular traffic on several of the roads below, affecting both local and through traffic and even access to the recreation area on the sides of the canal.

In particular, the repairs on the Shinnecock Canal Railroad Bridge, because of that bridge’s central position among the three bridges holding the South Fork in place, need to be done slowly and carefully. So, altogether here are the road closings.

The stretch of North Highway between the Montauk Highway and the Sunrise Highway, will have to be shut down in its entirety when the project begins this week and until Memorial Day. At various times after Memorial Day, single lane traffic with flagmen will let cars through. For the interval between now and Memorial Day, residents living in this small stretch will have to access the closed area either from the south or the north on the highway there. (The ramp entrances to the Sunrise Highway will not be affected.)

Also closing or being partly shut down during this period will be Canal Road West along the west side of the canal. As this road leads to recreational areas along that side of the canal, the railroad is going to be meeting with the Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department to work out available access, including footpaths to those facilities.

Perhaps the most worrisome of the railroad bridge repairs is the one which will be done on the Montauk Highway Railroad Bridge where it crosses over the Montauk Highway near East Tiana Road. Although two miles from the canal, this is where the steel cables that cross underneath the Shinnecock Canal attach to deep foundations on the western side of the canal to keep the rest of the South Fork from drifting off to sea. One hopes these cable moorings are left undisturbed.

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