When a mostly wooden bridge over the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Amagansett dating to 1895 began to fall apart and was abruptly closed to traffic recently, few residents who frequently use it were surprised. For months, holes had been growing in the layer of asphalt atop the planks. Then, sometime during the night of May 6, a hole appeared large enough to swallow a car tire. Warning cones and concrete barriers appeared, and drivers wishing to get to Cranberry Hole Road were diverted to Old Stone Highway or took the long way, via the Napeague stretch of Montauk Highway and Napeague Meadow Road.
It could be a while before the bridge reopens. In the early 1980s, the L.I.R.R. dropped a proposed $1 million concrete replacement because of objections from residents. The bridge was closed again in 1987 because of its condition and again in 1997. The last time any significant work was done to it was during the summer of 2008, and the work took nearly a year to complete, and that was when the railroad agreed that it was its responsibility. Now, a dispute over who should pay could delay the process even longer.
As Superintendent of Highways Stephen Lynch sees it, the railroad and its parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, own the bridge; the L.I.R.R. says otherwise and that it is the town’s problem. System-wide, the M.T.A. is projected to reach an annual deficit of $3 billion in 2025. In response, it will be forced to make higher-than-anticipated fare hikes, service cuts, layoffs, and, presumably, to curtail repairs.
From the outside, it seems highly unlikely that the M.T.A. would have the money on hand for a full replacement of the Cranberry Hole Road bridge — and it might be eager to use the cover of the ownership dispute with East Hampton Town as a way to delay a decision. It has proposed a 5.5-percent increase for rail tickets and a 5-percent hike in New York City subway and bus fares. E-ZPass refills could jump about 6 percent for tolls. Hearings are set for July, with the changes expected by Labor Day. As for long-term spending, the agency has prioritized projects like station improvements, new rail cars, and signal replacements designed to move trains around the region faster and more reliably. Though there was more than $200 million budgeted for bridgework in its 2020-24 capital plan, the Cranberry Hole Road span was not considered. In fact, the most-recent major work within the Town of East Hampton was a $23 million replacement of railroad bridges at North Main Street and Accabonac Road, completed in 2019.
Now might be the time for the Town of East Hampton to take the Cranberry Hole Road bridge off the M.T.A.’s hands, borrow the money, and get the span fixed properly once and for the foreseeable future.