MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A vital corridor leading from Mahopac to Putnam Hospital Center (PHC) in Carmel has been closed indefinitely due to the critical deterioration of a bridge, and fire officials say that has added precious minutes of travel time for ambulances en route to the emergency room.

On Friday, Dec. 1, inspectors from the state Department of Transportation performed a routine examination of the bridge on Drewville Road (County Route 36) that passes over West Branch Croton River near Cherry Hill Road. According to Fred Pena, Putnam County commissioner of highways, the inspectors discovered critical issues with the bridge and gave it a “zero load” rating, which means it’s in imminent danger of collapsing.

“A zero load rating means it shouldn’t be standing up,” Pena said. “You really can’t argue with that. There is risk and liability. A red flag was issued immediately, and the bridge was closed.”

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With the bridge closed, traffic can no longer access the direct route to Stoneleigh Avenue, which leads to the hospital. Fire officials with both the Mahopac and Mahopac Falls fire departments said until the road reopens, they will have to take detours to PHC or go to a different hospital.

“We have a few alternative routes, but it will cause a delay [for the ambulances] of another five or 10 minutes,” said Brian Sacher, chief of the Mahopac Falls Fire Department. “We can go down Route 6 and go through Carmel or the back way through Cherry Hill Road, but that is a backroad and is very narrow and you have to be cautious.”

Sacher said the Mahopac Falls Ambulance Corps also has the option of going to Hudson Valley Hospital in the Mohegan Fire District near Peekskill, depending on where the emergency call comes from. He said text messages were sent to drivers in the ambulance corps to remind them of the issue, but even more precautions have been taken.

“We hung signs on the ambulances to remind them, so they won’t go down that way or they’ll have to turn around and wind up delaying themselves even more,” he said.
Bill Nikisher, chief of the Mahopac Fire Department, agreed that the road closing will add more time to ambulance runs.

“The county laid out alternate routes, but it is going to be a delay of time; there’s no disputing that,” he said. “It will be the same thing for fire calls. If we get one that is on the other side of the bridge, with all the detours we’d have, it might be quicker for Carmel [Fire Department] to get there.”

Nikisher said his department was caught off-guard by the bridge closing.

“It was a shock because we never heard about it until the road was closed,” he said. “There was no forewarning; we heard it through the grapevine. I made some calls to the county and we were told it was closed indefinitely. Hopefully, we won’t have anything major happen until it’s fixed.”

Pena said plans are already underway for a temporary fix to open the road until a new bridge can be built.

“We engaged a design consultant to prepare a temporary repair that will allow us to reopen the bridge in about a week,” he said. “We are gathering material for that temporary repair and will install it as soon as we get a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).”

He said the DEC permit is necessary because the bridge passes over West Branch Croton River, which discharges into the Croton Falls Reservoir, adding that because Drewville is a main thoroughfare to the hospital, the permits will be issued quickly on an emergency basis, adding that he hopes to have the green light within a week so that work can begin.

Pena said the county knew the bridge was in poor condition but added,“we didn’t know it was this bad.” He said plans were already underway to replace it when it had to be closed and that some grant money has already been secured for the project. 

“It’s on a federal projects list called TIP, for Transportation Improvement Program,” he said.

Pena said the temporary fix will allow regular passenger cars and emergency vehicles to pass over, but 18-wheelers and other heavy tractor-trailers will be banned until the new bridge can be built.

“We have to re-evaluate if there is going to be a load reduction,” he said. “It might be limited to a type of traffic. Ambulances and fire trucks will be OK, but probably not tractor-trailers.”

Fire officials said that when the new bridge is constructed, they hope it will be wider than the existing one, which is a tight fit when two cars pass over it at the same time.

Pena said he agrees.

“We hope to widen it,” he said. “There is a couple of design criteria we go through when evaluating the redesign of a structure.”