City Planning Approves New City Island Bridge

Rendering of the new causeway design of City Island Bridge. Image credit: DOT.

Rendering of the new causeway design of City Island Bridge. Image credit: DOT.

New causeway design for City Island Bridge applauded by community and local elected officials. On May 21, 2014, the City Planning Commission unanimously approved an application by the New York City Department of Transportation and Department of Parks and Recreation for a city map amendment to facilitate the construction of a new City Island Bridge in the Bronx. City Island Bridge, which connects City Island to Rodman’s Neck, was built in 1901 and was determined in 2002 to be in a state of serious deterioration.  The new bridge would be located in the same footprint as the existing bridge, but will now be approximately 68 feet wide, 17 feet wider than the existing bridge. The wider bridge would allow three standard-width traffic lanes and two 6-foot wide bicycle lanes with two 7-foot wide pedestrian walkways, one on each side of the bridge.

The City Map amendment involves the delineation of a bridge corridor on the portion of Pelham Bay Park, the delineation of a bridge easement over Eastchester Bay, the narrowing by elimination, discontinuance and closing of a portion of City Island Avenue, the establishment of parkland and the adjustment of grades necessitated thereby including authorization for any acquisition or disposition of real property related thereto in Community Board Districts 10 and12, in the Bronx.

The City Planning Commission held a public hearing on March 7, 2014.  DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testified on behalf of the applicants. She stated, “When I arrived at the DOT, I quickly learned that there was strong political opposition to the City’s proposed cable-stayed design for the 113 year old City Island Bridge.” The DOT previously proposed to replace the deteriorating bridge with a cable-stayed bridge, which was scheduled to be built starting in 2007 with completion in 2010. The project was delayed until 2012 when the city announced it would accept bids. In February 2013, the City selected Tutor Perini as the general contractor for the project. On November 6, 2013, residents who opposed the design of the cable-stayed bridge filed a lawsuit against the City for a temporary injunction, which was granted by a Bronx Supreme Court Judge. In December 2013, the Bronx Supreme Court lifted the injunction and ordered the City to conduct public hearings and follow its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

On February 25, 2014, Bronx Community Board 10 held a public hearing and on March 20, 24014, voted to disapprove the application 33-0. On February 27, 2014, Bronx Community Board 12 held a hearing and voted 25-0 to recommend disapproval of the application. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. recommended disapproval on April 24, 2014. The community boards and local elected officials raised concerns about the previous cable-stay design of the bridge. The Borough President’s report acknowledged the “low-profile scale and the history of the development” on City Island and the special zoning district, which “forbids any structure on the Island to exceed 35 feet in height. The Borough President was, therefore, concerned about the severe impact of the cable-stay design, which would have risen to nearly 165 feet.

During the CPC hearing, Commissioner Trottenberg testified that the DOT was able to develop a creative solution to change the design of the bridge using value engineering” after sitting down with community representatives and local elected officials. She stated that the causeway design “is much more in keeping with the character of the community and Eastchester Bay,” saves the City up to $5 million, and is easier for the DOT to maintain. “Now we have a tremendous sense of urgency to get our ULURP. The city already has a contractor on board. The current bridge is in poor condition. And we really want to get a temporary bridge installed before the winter weather comes.”

Commissioner Kenneth J. Knuckles commended Commissioner Trottenberg for her “nimble response” to the “very legitimate concerns” of the local community. Commissioner Knuckles stated that the roadway to City Island was critical, noting that City Island is a “very distinct place” and “a place of important commerce and economic development for the Bronx and the City.”

Robert Collyer, Chief Bridge Officer of the DOT, stated that the city map amendment would reaffirm a 2006 transfer of parkland approved by Governor George Pataki in 2006, and also transfer the promenade to the Department of Parks and Recreation. The application would also facilitate one permanent easement which would allow the construction of the bridge and three temporary easements, which would allow the DOT to “come off the roadway and bring traffic off the island” and “work on the bulkhead in front of the esplanade that’s privately owned.” Collyer stated that the approval of the City Island Bridge application was urgent because “the existing bridge is in need of relief,” necessitating getting off it as soon as possible.

Wilhelm Ronda, a representative of Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., echoed the urgency of replacing the bridge and testified that the Borough President was fully supportive of the application. Ronda stated, “Commissioner Trottenberg’s commitment and sensitivity to the community’s vision for the bridge at this late date in the development process are nothing short of remarkable.” Ronda stated that the modified design not only “achieve(s) all standard requirements,” but also recognizes “the low profile character of City Island development.”

Stacy Gardener, a representative of local City Council Member James Vacca, stated that the Council member was originally opposed to the application, but the cooperation and leadership demonstrated by Commissioner Trottenberg and the DOT led to his support.

Brian Cook, Director of Economic Development for City Comptroller Scott Stringer, read into testimony, “City Island Bridge is not just a structure spanning the Eastchester Bay; it is quite literally a lifeline to the residents of the Bronx.” Cook noted that for more than century, the City Island Bridge has “been a way to get food and emergency services to the community that depends on it night and day.” Cook stated that “maintenance crews have had to repair it 117 in the last 24 months.” Furthermore, while “failing to fix this bridge was not an option,”

Cook stated that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s causeway design “minimizes impact, blend in with surrounding structures, and protects our visual corridors,” while also being more economical for the city and “easier to repair or replace by future generations.” The previous cable-stay design of the bridge would have been the tallest structure on the island, impacting the shadows on the waterway, trees, and visual corridors in Pelham Bay Park. The cable-stay bridge would have also increased the cost of building the bridge from $30 million to $100 million. Cook stated that the actions before the Commission were, therefore, “inherently linked to the design, and the design must be considered part of the legal review of the application.”

During the May 21st City Planning Commission vote, Chairman Carl Weisbrod commended the DOT and Commissioner Trottenberg for “resolving what was certainly a difficult community issue to the satisfaction of everybody.”

CPC: City Island Bridge (C 140251 MMX–City map amendment); (C 140252 PQX–Acquisition of Easements)(May 21, 2014).

By: Jennifer Baek (Jennifer is a CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2013).

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