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.
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.