City commissioner holds out hope – a bit – for changing unwanted City Island bridge to a causeway

City commissioner holds out hope – a bit – for changing unwanted City Island bridge to a causeway
courtesy of city DOT

The new city commissioner in charge of building the controversial City Island replacement bridge says there may be some – some – hope of scrapping the current plan and replacing it with a simple causeway.

But the new proposal is filled with complications – including racing the clock to submit plans for it by next month.

New Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who toured the bridge site and met with islanders on Wednesday, told them:

“What we would like to do is come up with a causeway design that will be not quite what you have, but a lot closer. It will be nothing like a cable-stayed bridge.”

At several points in the conversation, Trottenberg referred to the alternative bridge as a “plain vanilla causeway.”

However, environmental regulations have to be taken into consideration for a causeway design, she said, because it would require putting pilings in the water. The cable-stayed design avoids pilings.

She said that city engineers are going to look into using the pilings of the existing bridge.

Action needs to be taken soon because of an upcoming Bronx Borough Board meeting, followed by a City Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday, May 6 and a vote by it at the end of May. The City Council would then have to vote on the plan before it goes to Mayor de Blasio.

“We’re talking to the parties involved to see what it would take to get this causeway done,” DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said on Thursday.

Locals vehemently oppose the plan to replace the island’s iconic-but-deteriorating 1901 bridge with a soaring, modernistic cable-stayed one they say is totally out of character with the island’s small homes, marinas and seafood restaurants.

Trottenberg, accompanied by chief DOT bridge designer Robert Collyer and Bronx DOT commissioner Constance Moran, told locals that changing the design at this point would be complicated, since contracts have already been signed with Tutor Perini construction corporation, and would involve intense negotiations not only with the contractor, but also with federal and state agencies.

“For better for worse, when I arrived here we had a contract for the bridge, and the [current] bridge is in very poor condition,” said Trottenberg. “When you already have a contract and you have someone on board, it is not so easy to turn the battleship around.”

Islanders were at least happy a DOT commissioner actually came to the island to hear their concerns over the issue, which has been simmering for more than a decade, and left holding out a ray of hope.

“My impression is she’s been working very hard to make this happen for us,” Barbara Dolesek, City Island Civic Association vice-president, said of Trottenberg’s efforts to make the causeway plan happen.”

Dolensek added that “It feels incredible,” that the commissioner has seen islander’s view of the unwanted bridge.

“All of our protests went completely unheard or rebuffed by the previous commissioner,” she said.

Among those attending the meeting were Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, a representative from Borough President Ruben Diaz’s Jr.’s office, Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns, City Island Chamber of Commerce president Gerard “Skip” Giacco; the City Island Civic Association’s Dolensek, John Doyle, Karen Nani and Paul Nani; Sammy Chernin, owner of seven City Island restaurants, and representatives from other island businesses.

– with Bob Kappstatter

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742–3393. E-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.