The much-delayed West Thames pedestrian bridge project appears to be keeping to its most recent schedule, first announced last September, and is likely on track to open during the late summer or early autumn of this year.
This was the takeaway from a presentation at the February 6 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), which was led by Matt Krenek, a project manager with Skanska USA (the engineering firm overseeing the design and construction of the bridge), and Odit Oliner, an an assistant vice president at the City’s Economic Development Corporation.
Mr. Krenek confirmed that the bridge remains slated to open during the third quarter of 2019. He added that the two spans of the bridge are now being assembled and painted at a facility in upstate New York, and are scheduled to be delivered (via a barge that will pull up to the Esplanade) and installed during the spring. After the new bridge opens, he continued, demolition will begin on the existing pedestrian bridge, at Rector Street.
If this schedule proves to be viable, it will be a welcome respite from a litany of delays that have plagued the project for decades. The most recent of these emerged last September, when Mr. Krenek explained that defective welds on the structure were pushing back the planned opening date by a year.
That announcement represented the latest in a succession of postponements for the bridge. The previous timetable had called for the span to be complete before the end of 2018. That represented a slippage from the prior goal of autumn, 2017.
In October, 2017, Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) board member Catherine McVay Hughes asked for an update on the project’s schedule. Gwen Dawson, the Authority’s vice president for real property, answered, “it is likely to be some time in the second half of 2018.” She added that the City’s Economic Development Corporation, “had to push back the West Thames schedule somewhat, so that instead of getting the bridge delivered this fall, it’s going to be delivered in the spring [of 2018]. They have finalized the new schedule, but we haven’t gotten in yet.”
That setback came two years after the BPCA’s then-chairman, Dennis Mehiel recalled at a December, 2015 Authority meeting, “when I arrived here, three and a half years ago, it was clear that Mayor Bloomberg wanted to officiate at a ground breaking before the end of that year, then we pushed it off to before the end of his last year in office.” That would have translated into a 2013 opening for the bridge.
When David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) — which is funding the project, in partnership with the BPCA — spoke at the bridge’s groundbreaking ceremony, in November, 2016, he said ruefully, “I have been working on this for 28 years.” This was a reference to Mr. Emil’s tenure as president of the BPCA, from 1987 through 1994, during which time plans for a pedestrian span crossing West Street in front of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel were first formulated.
The West Thames pedestrian bridge span is intended to be a permanent replacement for the Rector Place pedestrian bridge, which was erected as a “temporary” crossing one year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (The Rector Place bridge was originally slated to be demolished within two years of its opening, but will celebrate its 17th anniversary later this year.)
The new West Thames bridge will stretch diagonally across the intersection of West and West Thames Streets, from the southwest corner on the Battery Park City side, to the northeast corner on the Financial District side, near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, where a new residential tower recently finished construction.
Although plans for a pedestrian span at West Thames stretch back to the era when the current governor’s father occupied the State House, the most recent version of the proposal dates from the mid-2000s, when the BPCA proposed to pay for the bridge itself, and have it open by the first day of school at the newly built P.S./I.S. 276 in 2009. But the City (which must approve major capital expenses by the BPCA) refused to allow the Authority to spend the $18 million the bridge was then projected to cost.
Since then, the structure’s anticipated price tag has nearly tripled to $45.1 million. Indeed, it jumped 64 percent (increasing by $17.6 million) in the seven months between November, 2015 (when the LMDC’s board approved a budget of $27.5 million), and that agency’s board meeting the following June, when they signed off a revised budget of $45.1 million.
Under this budget, the LMDC increased its contribution to the West Thames pedestrian bridge project by $13 million (for a total of $33 million), while the BPCA bumped up its subsidy from $7.5 million to $8.25 million. The EDC also found $3.8 million in federal highway funds to cover the cost of demolishing the existing Rector Place pedestrian bridge. (This figure is $300,000 more than the bridge cost to build in 2002.)
Assuming the West Thames bridge project adheres to its latest budget, it will (at a total length of 230 feet) cost slightly more than $196,000 per linear foot, or approximately $16,340 per inch. For comparison, the new Tappan Zee Bridge project, in the Hudson Valley, is costing approximately $244,000 per linear foot, but that bridge is eight lanes wide, rather than the 16-foot width of the West Thames pedestrian bridge.
With the West Thames Bridge now slated for completion in late-2019, children who entered the first grade on the day P.S./I.S. 276 opened in 2009 (when the most recent incarnation of the plan was originally slated for completion) will be juniors in high school by the time that the bridge becomes available to the public, assuming the project adheres to its current schedule.
For comparison, the Brooklyn Bridge took 16 years to complete, and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge was finished in five years. Both were the longest spans of their kind in the world when they debuted. The new Tappan Zee Bridge was opened four years after the start of construction.
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