Unionport Bridge reconstruction now slated to start in 2017

The five-lane Unionport Bridge, which traverses the Westchester Creek, is set to be replaced.
Community News Group / Patrick Rocchio

Now’s your chance to add your two cents to a roadway improvement plan for a busy east Bronx traffic artery.

The comment period to solicit the public’s input on a proposal to replace the Unionport Bridge, a heavily traveled bridge over Westchester Creek at the Bruckner Interchange, is currently underway and will continue until Saturday, October 10.

Wanted are comments regarding environmental, cultural and other concerns during the reconstruction, now expected to begin as early as spring 2017 and anticipated for completion in late 2020 or early 2021, according to a city Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

The plan is to replace the existing five-lane draw bridge along Bruckner Boulevard with a new widened moveable bridge that will include bicycle and pedestrian paths and new access ramps, according to DOT.

What will happen during the project to the traffic that pulsates over the bridge every day has created concern with some in the community, said Bob Bieder, a prominent local activist and businessman in Zerega.

“The main concern is that there would be no full closure during the construction,” said Bieder, adding

At one point, Bieder said that the community had been informed that several lanes would remain open during construction.

He said that ‘patch work’ repairs to the bridge are inadequate.

He noted that the bridge still has to be able to open and close during construction to facilitate commerce.

He related a story about a shipment of biofuel, which can spoil, that was stuck at the crossing for more than 24 hours when the bridge could not be opened due to very hot weather.

He explained that this nearly resulted in the loss of millions of dollars worth of product.

Officials were concerned that the joints on the existing bridge had expanded due to the heat, and that the roadway would be impossible to close once it was opened.

The crossing has also attracted the attention of the East Bronx Traffic Coalition, a consortium of civic associations studying the traffic infrastructure needs in east Bronx communities.

The EBTC is concerned that increasing vehicular traffic because of new construction, like the a new mall just blocks away from the bridge on Hutchinson River Parkway, and the likely development of the shuttered Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas site, could create a gridlock situation. .

“The bridge project is, in and of itself, a ‘Catch-22’ (paradox),” said EBTC member John Doyle of traffic at the location. “Construction needs to be done because the bridge needs to be replaced, but the interchange is also one of the worst bottlenecks in the country.”

The DOT spokeswoman stated that “a traffic mitigation plan is in the final design stage and will include the placement of a temporary bridge along each side of the existing bridge which will provide the same travel capacity the current bridge provides.”

The spokeswoman also stated that presentations will be made before Community Board 9 and Community Board 10 when a plan is ready.

CB 9 has been receiving regular updates from DOT about its plans for the Unionport Bridge, said William Rivera, CB 9 district manager.

“The community board is just concerned about the (construction) time period that is almost four years,” said Rivera, adding four years could easily turn into five years.

Rivera said that the board would likely look into construction alternatives that could shorten the time.

To learn more about the potential environmental issues to be commented on related to the Unionport Bridge reconstruction, see a public notice on page 106 of the September 11-17 Bronx Times and Bronx Times Reporter.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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