Advocates call for construction of long-promised bridges
A broken promise will break the Bronx River Greenway into two pieces, denying tens of thousands of Bronxites access to newly-built parks along the river, the advocacy organizations that crusaded to build the parks charge.
The Bronx River Alliance, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Sustainable South Bronx, Rocking the Boat and The Point CDC are backing a petition campaign to persuade the state Department of Transportation to build three bridges in the vicinity of Starlight Park, as it had committed to do a decade ago.
Without them, people living north of the park will not be able to reach Concrete Plant Park and Hunts Point Riverside Park from the Greenway and Hunts Point and Longwood residents will not be able to travel north on the Greenway to Starlight Park, the Westchester border and beyond.
But the State Department of Transportation, which had committed to building the bridges–one from the Southern end of Starlight park, one north of Westchester Avenue and the third over the Amtrak line at 172nd Street near Bronx River Avenue–says it can no longer afford the $20 million price tag.
An ambitious reconstruction of Starlight Park, on the west bank of the river at East 174th Street,is three years behind schedule. The park has been closed since 2001. When it reopens early next year the park will offer waterfront access, featuring a boathouse and floating dock, along with playgrounds, basketball courts and ballfields.
A second phase of the renovation, to restore 11 acres of parkland used by DOT contractors to repair the Sheridan Expressway, was to include the three bridges. But negotiations with Amtrak over building across its rails stalled, and then the nation’s economy collapsed.
As a result, in 2009 the Department of Transportation withdrew its promised funding.
The transportation department remains committed to the project, insisted Adam Levine, DOT director of public affairs.
“Funding of the project was deferred during the financial crisis from which we’re still recovering, when it became apparent that the project would not be able to move forward on schedule,” Levine said. “We continue to carry a project to build Phase 2 in our capital program, with the expectation that negotiations will be successfully resolved.”
Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point Community Development Corporation in Hunts Point and chair of the Bronx River Alliance, wants elected officials to make space in their budgets for the Bronx River Greenway now, to coincide with the reopening of Starlight Park.
“Everyone is in a fiscal crisis right now,” she said. “We definitely need stakeholders and elected officials to carry out this vision, and be creative about how we will get this money.”
“The vision isn’t complete without realizing this bridge. Communities cannot access these jewels.”
Building the bridge “would have brought about new access to recreation space along with the Bronx River, an increase in safer pedestrian pathways and an expansion of the beautiful Bronx River Greenway,” said Angela Tovar, a community greening planner at Sustainable South Bronx.
Linking the two portions of the Greenway is both a health issue and an economic issue, the Alliance argues in a statement on its Website urging people to sign the petition.
“In a community deficient in open space, cut up by truck routes and beset by asthma, diabetes, obesity and other health problems that open air exercise can reduce, government action is essential to complete this healthy, green transportation link,” it says, adding that by the DOT’s own calculation, building the link will create or save 780 jobs, and that the completed Greenway will attract new businesses to its vicinity.