Push for Van Cortlandt Park bridge over Major Deegan Expressway

Push for Van Cortlandt Park bridge over Major Deegan Expressway
Community groups and local politicians held a rally for a pedestrian bridge in Van Cortlandt across the Major Deegan Expressway on Saturday, March 29. From left to right: Community Board 8 Chairman Robert Fanuzzi, Councilman Andrew Cohen, State Senator Jose M. Serrano, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park Director Christina Taylor, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Congressman Eliot Engel, and Community Board 12 Chairman Father Richard Gorman.
Photo by Edwin Soto

What’s $7.5 million for a bridge over the Major Deegan compared to an almost $3 billion cost overrun at another end of Van Cortlandt Park?

If you’re the city Department of Environmental Protection, too much.

That’s the DEP’s response to the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and local community boards who held a rally Saturday, March 29, asking for a pedestrian bridge over the Deegan at the southern end of the park.

Christina Taylor, the director for the Friends of Van Cortlandt park, said the Department of Environmental Protection promised the bridge back in 1999.

The original Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for the controversial Croton Water Filtration Plant near Jerome Reservoir, she said, stated that if feasible, the DEP would construct the bridge.

Taylor said it took until 2009 to get the feasibility study done, and although the bridge was deemed possible technically, the DEP said it was not financially feasible.

The current estimated cost of the pedestrian bridge, which would connect parts of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, is about $7.5 million, she noted.

Robert Fanuzzi, chair of Community Board 8, said he’s frustrated that the DEP has found money for overrun costs on the filtration plant, but not the bridge.

“We’ve really had enough,” he said, “and we’re tired of waiting.”

Because the park is so segmented by highways, with only a few pedestrian crossings, Fanuzzi said residents in surrounding neighborhoods only get to take advantage of a fraction of the park. “I just know my little sliver of it.”

Taylor said she hopes the rally will be the push DEP needs to complete the project. “We want to give them a chance to make it right and keep their promise.”

DEP spokesman Ted Timbers responded in a statement, saying “New Yorkers want DEP to stay focused on keeping their water bills as low as possible, which means ensuring that our resources are only used for critical projects that will ensure a reliable source of high quality drinking water and continue to improve the health of New York harbor.”

The DEP made $200 million available for Bronx parks improvement in 2004, but the pedestrian bridge was not selected as one of the projects, the DEP commissioner said in a 2011 letter to Community Board 12.

The rally for the bridge drew at least 60 community members despite the rainy weather, in addition to several local politicians. Taylor said Council Member Andrew Cohen is working to organize a meeting between the Friends, the DEP, and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Our office supports this important project, and we will continue to work with local elected officials, community organizations and this administration to make this bridge a reality,” said Diaz spokesman John DeSio.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.

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