What’s taking so long? Reconstruction of major Ridgewood/Middle Village bridge crawls to halfway point

The railroad bridge at Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road, as shown prior to construction.
File photo

For nearly a year, drivers in Middle Village and Ridgewood have been dealing with the reconstruction of a railroad bridge that’s tied up traffic along two major thoroughfares — and there’s no sign that the work will end anytime soon.

The reconstruction of the bridge carrying Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road above the Long Island Rail Road’s Montauk branch began last January after a six-month delay. Crews reduced traffic on both roadways to one lane in each direction while they worked on rebuilding the span’s northern side. Once that’s completed, workers will rebuild the bridge’s southern side.

Initially, the first phase was scheduled to be completed by January of 2018. That target date appears completely out of reach, according to Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, considering the delayed start and other complications that arose during the project.

In the summer, Metropolitan Avenue was temporarily restored to four full traffic lanes to accommodate extra bus traffic while the MTA closed down the nearby M line for two straight months. Once shuttle train service was restored to line on the Labor Day weekend, the work zone on Metropolitan Avenue was restored.

But there’s been little discernible progress with regard to the bridge’s reconstruction, Giordano told QNS in an interview. While he was informed that crews are working to shore up the bottom of the bridge, not much has been done on the top side of the span.

“There aren’t any structural problems that they’ve found so far underneath the bridge,” he said. “But no one can tell me when this contractor is going to get back to the top of the bridge and finish the first stage.”

Mugrose Construction, a New Jersey-based firm, was contracted by the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to complete the bridge project. Last year, Giordano and Board 5 members expressed concerns about whether Mugrose could handle a project of this magnitude; the firm was listed at the time as being a small business with just five employees, and primarily focused on residential real estate.

Of the six firms that entered bids to reconstruct the Metropolitan Avenue/Fresh Pond Road bridge, according to DOT records, Mugrose entered the lowest bid, with an estimated cost of just over $14.8 million.

Mugrose has previously rebuilt bridges in Monmouth and Cape May counties in New Jersey — and those projects were also beset by problems.

In 2012, Mugrose was reportedly fined $1,000 per day for three weeks because they missed the Memorial Day deadline to complete reconstruction of a Belmar, NJ, bridge. The Wall, NJ, Patch reported that the Monmouth County Public Works Department wound up installing guardrails and putting the finishing touches on the job.

Three years later, Mugrose was also involved in the reconstruction of a bridge in Sea Isle City; the project’s completion was delayed several weeks, according to Philly.com, because crews encountered extensive rusting on the superstructure and other unsafe conditions.

After securing the DOT contract for the Metropolitan Avenue/Fresh Pond Road bridge, Mugrose had been scheduled to start work in early July of 2016. Yet again, there were problems that led to delays, several of which were out of Mugrose’s control. The first delay occurred because of setbacks in reviewing and approving the design of the bridge. Another delay occurred in October because, as QNS reported, the contractor was unable to secure the appropriate permits for the work.

A DOT spokesperson told QNS that the agency is “aware of issues the contractor has encountered during this contract, which include requiring work out of sequence to accommodate the MTA ‘M’ train emergency and unanticipated field conditions under the bridge deck.”

The department “is continuing to work with the contractor to address delays and complete the contract,” the spokesperson added.

QNS reached out to Mugrose Construction for a comment but has not yet received a response.

Meanwhile, as the bridge project dawdles, it appears the MTA is moving full steam ahead toward completing reconstruction of the M line. It’s currently rebuilding the Bushwick viaduct connecting the Myrtle Avenue line to the J/Z line above Broadway.

“The work is on schedule,” said an MTA spokesperson, who told QNS that “demolition of the viaduct is complete and next is installation of the concrete pedestals and structural steel.” The line should be restored to full strength by April.