Mohonk Mountain House bridge collapse sparks debate over safety

When a commercial truck crashed into the pedestrian bridge near the entrance of Mohonk Mountain House just before noon on June 3, word spread fast.

“My first reaction was shock because the damage was severe,” said Kelly Pry, an Accord resident who drives over the mountain and under the collapsed overpass — where the road narrows to one lane — twice daily on her way to work in New Paltz. 

Thankfully, the collision caused no injuries. “A large truck that was traveling westbound made contact with the bridge, resulting in [it] collapsing and ultimately being destroyed,” a Mohonk representative said in a statement. “The Mohonk crew quickly worked to remove the debris and managed to have the roadway cleared by approximately 2 p.m.”

Truckers hitting low bridges costs New York millions as crashes increase

Mohonk is the rare hotel large enough to have its own crew. Still, various town fire departments also responded to the scene. In the immediate aftermath, residents flocked to social media and online forums like NextDoor to warn others to avoid the road in either direction. They also swapped stories of watching various trucks and trailers get stuck under the low bridge over the years. That it would eventually be brought down by one of them seemed inevitable to many. 

The narrow road is known as Mountain Rest Road or Mohonk Road, but technically it’s County Route 6. It has since been reopened, with drivers now passing between two large stone abutments with open sky and trees overhead in the absence of the bridge. But what Mohonk will do next remains an open question. “We are currently assessing and reviewing all options to rebuild the bridge while maintaining its historic integrity,” said the hotel representative.

The one-lane road the bridge formerly spanned.

The one-lane road the bridge formerly spanned.

Olli Chanoff / Special to the Times Union

Whatever Mohonk hopes to do will need the approval of Brendan Masterson, commissioner of Ulster County’s Highways and Bridges Division. His job is to make sure that the new bridge meets height and width constraints. But he’s in a slightly unusual position: It’s rare that a bridge passing over a county road isn’t owned by the county.

“Any county road that goes over the Thruway, the Thruway owns the bridge. As far as privately owned bridges, I can’t think of any others besides Mohonk,” Masterson said. “That was a historical carriage road from way back in the day.”

Masterson was surprised when he heard about the accident — the county’s own snowplows have made it under that bridge for many winters unscathed. And they are pretty tall. He expects the height of any new bridge to be taller than the old one.

“There are more current design standards for overpasses,” he said. “We would be looking for it to conform to those. There may be other things we need to take into consideration due to the age of that structure, if there are any historical concerns.”

Locals are hoping Mohonk will ask them to share their opinions as part of the replacement process. Pry, the Accord resident, is more concerned about width than clearance. She worries daily driving where the road goes down to one lane and wants Mohonk to use this as an opportunity to widen the space under the bridge.

“The one-lane bridge is charming, but it has never felt practical, and I hold my breath every time I approach it,” she said. “A lot of cars know to slow down or come to a complete stop, but many do not.”

Masterson believes widening the road will be one of many considerations for his department. But he can’t speculate on what will replace the bridge or happen to the road. “It’s a little too early; no one has taken a look at it yet,” he said. Still, he knows enough to say nothing new will happen any time this year. Designing a bridge takes time.

In the meantime, Masterson and a crew from the Highways and Bridges Division were at the scene on June 9 placing better signs along the road to warn drivers that there’s only one lane ahead. “Without the visual of the overpass there, we don’t want people not familiar with the road to think it’s wide open,” he said.