After nearly three decades of plans, proposals, and false starts, the West Thames pedestrian bridge broke ground on Tuesday (November 15). At the ceremony, David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), which is largely funding the project, said, “I have been working on this for 28 years.” This was a reference to Mr. Emil’s tenure as president of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), from 1987 through 1994, during which time plans for a pedestrian span crossing West Street in front of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel for first formulated.
The BPCA’s chairman, Dennis Mehiel echoed this sentiment at a December, 2015 board meeting, in which he recalled, “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.”
At the Tuesday ceremony, Authority president Shari Hyman said, “we’re honored to start work on the final strand of connective tissue between the Financial District and Battery Park City.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron observed that, “weaving the Lower Manhattan and Battery Park City community together across the West Side Highway is a major priority.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, “two of Manhattan’s greatest strengths are its walkability and its vibrant streetscape, but large at-grade highways divide neighborhoods and diminish that vibrancy. The West Thames Street project will quite literally bridge the gap between Battery Park City and the Financial District, benefiting the entire Lower Manhattan community.”
City Council member Margaret Chin noted, “this is the latest in a series of milestones signaling a bright new future for Battery Park City. For years after the attacks of September 11, this has been a neighborhood largely divided from the rest of the City. The completion of the West Thames Street Bridge will not only provide a new convenient pathway for pedestrians, but will also inaugurate a new era for Battery Park City as a unique and beautiful waterfront neighborhood knit firmly into the fabric of our City.”
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 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 celebrated its 14th anniversary in August.) 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 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 in June of this year, when they signed off a revised budget of $45.1 million.
The West Thames Bridge is now slated for completion in mid-2018. That means that 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 slated for completion) will be sophomores in high school by the time that the bridge becomes available to the public, assuming the project adheres to its current schedule.