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GPS system allows mariners to track construction barges at NY bridge

Oct 3, 2014 03:31 PM
Two crane barges participate in a pile-cleaning operation at the Tappan Zee Bridge in June. All vessels involved in the construction project contain GPS tracking that can be monitored by recreational boats to help them avoid barges and other hazards.

Janie Rosman

Two crane barges participate in a pile-cleaning operation at the Tappan Zee Bridge in June. All vessels involved in the construction project contain GPS tracking that can be monitored by recreational boats to help them avoid barges and other hazards.

In the wake of a fatal collision, New York state has established a global positioning satellite system to track construction vessels near the new span that will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge on the Hudson River.

In May, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that an interactive map showing vessel locations on the Hudson River is available on the project website, NewNYBridge.com, for recreational and commercial mariners to get updated information on the active construction zone. The GPS tracking system is one of the new boater safety features instituted by the New York State Thruway Authority, Tappan Zee Constructors LLC (TZC) and the U.S. Coast Guard for the summer boating season.

“Boaters will be better protected, as will the construction crews working on the (new bridge),” Cuomo said. “Every precaution we take on this active work zone now will not only help keep people safe, but will also keep the project on schedule and ultimately provide drivers with a less-congested commute and a safer bridge to get where they need to go.”

The boater safety enhancements include GPS tracking for contractors’ vessels, an interactive GPS Web page for mariners and an electronic geo-fence alarm system to monitor barge movement.

TZC added enhanced mooring lines and inspection protocols for the company’s barges. The company also added more deck hands, an enhanced training program and 24-hour safety and security patrols. There is a proposed Coast Guard safety zone around mooring locations, new lighted buoys, enhanced marine law enforcement patrols, and a new thermal-imaging security camera system monitoring the entire work zone.

The Coast Guard has extended the Regulated Navigation Area (RNA) with new signs and a “slow, no wake” speed zone. The access channel is marked for Piermont, N.Y., boaters and marinas. Boater safety information is being distributed to marinas and boat clubs and at launching ramps.

About 90 TZC vessels have been working on the Hudson in the project area. At the peak of activity in the summer, 130 or more vessels could be there, including crew boats, tugboats and barges, as well as temporary fixed platforms.

The Coast Guard announced it was extending its RNA around the project site to 500 yards north and 500 yards south of the existing bridge. Mariners were advised to proceed with no wake at a maximum speed of 5 knots in this area, and to transit the main channel when traveling between the north and south sides of the bridge.

The RNA allows the Coast Guard to limit or prohibit marine traffic in the area if necessary. The RNA previously extended 200 yards south and 300 yards north of the bridge.

The Thruway Authority and TZC have applied for a new safety zone around the 16 construction barge mooring locations at the site. No recreational vessels were allowed in the safety zone.

The changes follow a fatal collision on the night of July 26, 2013. Bride-to-be Lindsey Stewart and her groom’s best man, Mark Lennon, were killed when the 19-foot boat they were riding in slammed into a construction barge. The boat operator, Jojo John, pleaded guilty in June to two counts of second-degree vehicular manslaughter and operating the boat while intoxicated. He was scheduled to be sentenced in September.

But the victims’ families insisted that the barge’s owners are also to blame because it lacked adequate lighting required by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has disputed the claim. The families of the two who died and four others who were injured, including Stewart’s fiancé Brian Bond, have a federal lawsuit pending against John, the contractor, and the barge and boat owners. John is suing the contractor in a separate suit.

James Mercante, the maritime attorney defending John in the civil case, said the state’s action was prudent.

“What they’re doing now is exactly what should have been done prior to the casualty,” he said. “Now they seem to have pretty user-friendly and safe zones there.”

Mercante said the most important upgrade will be white and orange markings on the 5-foot-high buoys marking the barge mooring areas, with flashing lights visible for three miles. The 16 mooring buoys for the barges will also be lit, which was not the case before the accident. 

“The buoys were completely unlit before the casualty,” Mercante said. “And the barges were poorly lit.”

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