I-190 in the dark – when will the lights come back?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Two years after state Thruway Authority officials removed roughly 300 light poles from the I-190 for being fall hazards, the well-traveled highway remains in the dark.

In August 2022, the New York State Thruway Authority sued WSP USA Inc (Parsons Brinkerhoff), Concrete Applied Technologies Corporation, and Cold Spring Construction Company, for breach of contract and negligence.

The lawsuit seeks to recoup $4.4 million in damages after the Thruway Authority learned that the Nova Light Poles did not comply with the specifications agreed to in the 2017 and 2018 contracts.

Specifically, the lawsuit states that the poles were susceptible to cracking, creating a fall hazard for motorists.

All three companies denied the allegations in their responses to the lawsuit, including one that pointed the finger back at the state for using “poor business judgment.”

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The Thruway Authority said Concrete Applied Technologies Corp. installed 97 light poles at a cost of $1.48 million, but they lacked stiffeners affixed with a wrap-around weld at the base of each pole.

“Due to their deviation from the plans and specifications set forth in the First Construction Contract, the Nova Light Poles furnished and installed by CATCO were highly susceptible to fatigue cracking at the base and were not suitable, adequate or safe for use in the highway lighting system on I-I90,” the Thruway Authority alleged in the lawsuit.

For the second contract in 2018, the state worked with Cold Spring and WSP, which was tasked with inspecting Cold Spring’s work to ensure it followed specifications in the contract. Cold Spring installed 117 Nova Light Poles with five spare poles at a total cost of $1.97 million.

But the state said these poles also failed to comply with the specifications in the second contract, by also lacking the stiffeners.

After the first two phases were finished, the state sought bids to buy 181 more Nova Light Poles, using the same “shop drawing/item number of the poles that had been previously approved for installation.”

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Thruway maintenance workers installed these poles between 2018 and 2020. But workers in an emergency removal action had to take down 129 “barrier-mounted” poles, which cost the state $444,047. These poles, too, were susceptible to cracking.

Thruway officials said WSP approved the defective design.

In March 2021, Thruway officials discovered that some light poles showed signs of fatigue cracking at the base. The state said it incurred about $372,074 in expenses to patrol around the defective lights during high wind events and conduct traffic control. Thruway officials confirmed two poles fell that year, including one that struck a vehicle.

By December 2021, state officials decided to remove the poles, and incurred additional costs of $244,149 for an emergency removal, “due to the possibility of the Nova Light Poles falling on motorists.”

Several motorists have contacted News 4 about the lack of lighting on the highway and the safety concerns it creates.

One viewer wrote, “It is impossible to see anything driving at night AND especially during winter storms.”

In their answers to the lawsuit, both Cold Spring and WSP blamed the state.

Cold Spring states the light poles “were reviewed, approved and accepted by NYSTA” without issue. But if Cold Spring is found to be liable, the company states in a cross-claim that some or all of the damages were caused by “the negligence, breaches of contract, culpable conduct, and/or wrongful acts of defendant WSP USA Inc.”

WSP said any damages the state sustained “would have been caused and/or brought about in whole or in part by the poor business judgment, negligence, and failure of due care of” state Thruway Authority officials.

A Thruway Authority spokesman said that after the poles were removed in Decembere 2021, the “number of reported crashes on the 190 has decreased by more than ten percent as compared to the average number of crashes on the I-190 in the last decade.”

“The Thruway Authority will continue to monitor and evaluate any impacts to traffic,” the spokesman said.

When will lights return?

It’s unclear how long it will be until lights are installed along the entire highway, but the Thruway Authority hopes to add poles and lighting to the first four miles next summer.

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Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

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