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Problems with Tappan Zee delay opening of new Cuomo Bridge span

New York

THE opening of the second span of the Mario Cuomo Bridge in New York on Saturday was delayed after a piece of its predecessor, the old Tappan Zee Bridge, which is parallel to it, became destabilised and threatened to fall, officials said.

The Tappan Zee was being disassembled when the "potentially dangerous situation developed" and a piece of the old bridge became destabilised, Matthew J Driscoll, executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority, said on Saturday.

Mr Driscoll said that the Tappan Zee was being evaluated but that the new span of the Mario Cuomo Bridge would remain closed until the authority was "assured there is no risk to the new span". At around 5pm on Friday, crew members disassembling the old bridge heard a "loud pop" coming from the structure, Terry Towle, president of Tappan Zee Constructors, told reporters on Saturday evening.

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There appeared to be problems with joints that could have theoretically caused the old bridge to fall toward the new eastbound span, which is 160 feet away, Mr Towle said.

Engineers inspected the old bridge and it did not appear that the new span was in danger, Mr Towle said, adding that he had no estimate on when the eastbound span would open. He said he was waiting for additional assurances from multiple engineers that the old bridge was fully stabilised. "I'm not going to take any risk whatsoever," he added.

Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters earlier on Saturday that contractors on Friday had discovered a damaged and rusted piece of the old bridge that could pose a potential threat to the new span. "We want to move the traffic over as quickly as possible," Mr Cuomo said. "The new bridge is ready."

The Coast Guard closed the main federal navigation channel of the Hudson River on Friday after the structural issue was found.

On Saturday, the Coast Guard reopened the western part of the river to vessels that checked with the patrol commander enforcing the safety zone, but it said that the eastern half remained closed because of the destabilised bridge.

The problem came a day after Mr Cuomo and other dignitaries gathered at the new bridge to celebrate the planned opening of the second span. Mr Cuomo lauded the new bridge as a testament to "New York's greatness" that "shows the world that we're capable of dreaming big and delivering results for the people of this state".

The first span of the new bridge, a US$4 billion project, opened last year after decades of wrangling over whether to repair the Tappan Zee or build a new bridge. The westbound span of the bridge had been carrying both eastbound and westbound traffic. Eastbound traffic was set to be shifted to the new span after it opened last weekend, but concerns about the stability of the old bridge delayed that shift.

The new bridge, which connects Rockland and Westchester counties, is a two-span cable-stayed design, with the cables holding up its steel decks anchored to the tops of the angled central towers rather than to the shore. NYTIMES