‘Morris Bridge Is Coming Down, Coming Down…’

The Other Pedestrian Span That Has Been Slated for Replacement Since Before the Flood

The Morris Street bridge was built in 1947The Morris Street bridge was built in 1947

Earlier this year, the de Blasio administration said to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), in effect, “wanna buy a bridge?” They were referring to the Morris Street pedestrian overpass, a forlorn span that links Washington and Greenwich Street, by reaching across the entrance plaza to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The MTA’s offering price, nothing, might seem less than enticing, but it contained a multi-million dollar sweetener: The bridge, erected in 1947, had reached the end of its useful life almost a decade ago, and would soon have to be replaced, or else closed entirely. The MTA, whose Bridges & Tunnels arm operates the Brooklyn-Battery tube, promised to assume responsibility for building a new bridge.

They made good on that assurance this week, announcing that the existing Morris Street bridge will be closed by the end of July, with a new span slated to open, “before the end of 2017,” according to a statement from the MTA. Lower Manhattan residents, who have endured decades of promises about the nearby West Thames pedestrian bridge (which is now under construction, and nearing a projected 2018 ribbon cutting) might be forgiven for greeting this timetable with skepticism.

 A rendering by HDR Architects, designers of the new span slated to replace the Morris Street pedestrian bridge,of the sleek viaduct that will soon begin construction over the plaza of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

A rendering by HDR Architects, designers of the new span slated to replace the Morris Street pedestrian bridge,of the sleek viaduct that will soon begin construction over the plaza of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The new bridge will reach across the plaza with no supporting piers, which will allow for better traffic flow in the tunnel plaza beneath. It will also bring the structure into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by offering ramps at both ends. Occupying a slightly higher elevation that the current bridge will put the span out of reach of flood waters. The design, by HDR Architects, will also include illuminated handrails and glass panel posts.

HDR is a global architecture and engineering firm, based in Nebraska, which served as the lead designer on the new Tappan Zee Bridge project (now under construction), and also contributed to the design of the Lower Manhattan’s Fulton Center subway hub, which opened in 2014.

Like the soon-to-be-demolished bridge, the new span will also serve a second purpose, according to the MTA: Its abutments provide structural support to the walls that hold up Washington Street and Greenwich Street, and prevent them from tumbling into culvert of the tunnel plaza. (When the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was being constructed in the 1940s, it destabilized more than a dozen tenement apartment buildings on both of these streets, which led to their demolition.)


Local leaders have implored the City for years to replace, or at least properly maintain the Morris Street pedestrian bridge. During the early 2000s, a Bloomberg administration plan for “Greenwich South” envisioned creating a new neighborhood of parks and high-rise towers, all erected on a six-acre platform built over the tunnel plaza. This plan, which would have replaced the bridge with an actual street, never got off the drawing board, but its decade-long pendency seems to have become a rationale for doing nothing about the deteriorating overpass.

A 2009 study showed that the bridge was approaching the point of being structurally unsound. And in 2013, the City’s Department of Design and Construction presented plans to erect a new viaduct over the tunnel plaza. This plan, too, was never built.

Under an agreement reached earlier this year with the City, the MTA will own and maintain the new bridge.


  1. Gene says

    Whatever happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Somehow I doubt that this bridge – which is only 76 years old – has reached the end of its life span. We have plenty of bridges far older than that that are still doing their job. This smells like another boondoggle for the city’s contractors to once again spend millions of dollars taking years if not decades to rebuild something that is already there. While a new bridge would be nice, I have lost complete confidence in the ability of any government agency to do anything on time and within budget. The West Thames Street Bridge saga is just the latest in a long line of glaring examples at government waste an incompetence. After being delayed over a decade, and with a projected start date of 2016, the West Thames Street Bridge project finally got off the ground a few months ago and has already appeared to have stalled out after the contractors managed to build only the concrete foundation for a set of stairs! There is no way, that bridge will be finished by 2018 as allegedly planned. Having to endure the pain of watching government incompetence on that project, I don’t relish to see it again on the Morris Street Bridge. And why do they need to tear down the existing bridge before they build the new one when we all know any new replacement bridge will not be finished for at least 10 years. Why inconvenience the residents of Lower Manhattan even more?

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