Tuesday, March 6, 2012
It seemed quixotic at first, but maybe the idea of turning the Tappan Zee Bridge into a walkway after a new bridge is built is not so far fetched after all.
State officials said Wednesday that they were exploring the possibility of turning the three-mile-long bridge into a route for pedestrians and bicyclists along the lines of the High Line on the West Side of Manhattan, or the equally successful Walkway Over the Hudson linking Poughkeepsie and Highland.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and aides said at a cabinet meeting in Albany that it would cost $150 million to demolish the existing bridge, which carries the New York State Thruway, so turning it into a walkway connecting Rockland and Westchester Counties was worth exploring.
“Could you leave it up, and what are the economics and the practicalities of that?” Mr. Cuomo said at the meeting. “It’s an exciting option.”
After more than 10 years of study, building a new bridge finally seemed to reach critical mass last fall when it was one of 14 projects chosen by the Obama administration for expedited federal review and approval — possibly allowing work on a new $5 billion bridge to begin as early as spring 2013. The bridge is 56 years old — 6 years past its anticipated life span — and needs $50 million in maintenance and repairs annually.
After the project was announced, the idea of preserving the old bridge was raised by Paul Feiner, the Greenburgh town supervisor, who proposed a walkway. The idea immediately gained support from biking and pedestrian groups. In January, the newly formed Tappan Bridge Park Alliance said that a walkway “would generate economic and community development to the region by providing a world-class destination and a much needed open space in the congested Lower Hudson Valley.”
The initial reactions from public officials were cool, and some said the steep pitch of the Tappan Zee, compared, for example, with the flat Walkway Over the Hudson, could make a park plan impractical.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo and Thomas Madison, executive director of the State Thruway Authority, endorsed further study of the project. They indicated it might make more sense to create a walkway than to tear down the existing bridge.
“I’m so excited,” Mr. Feiner said Wednesday in an e-mail. “This could become a world-class destination point.”
Despite overall applause for the coming bridge replacement, there has also been criticism that the fast progress has come at the expense of the optimal project. Transit advocates are upset that the new bridge will not include rail lines or bus service.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit group advocating for alternatives to motor-vehicle use, recently began running radio and newspaper advertisements that criticized the absence of mass transit in the current design. Hearings on the project’s environmental impact statement are scheduled for Feb. 28 in West Nyack and for March 1 in Tarrytown.
Mr. Madison and Mr. Cuomo said that the new bridge would provide areas for bikers and walkers, unlike the old one, and that it was being built to support mass transit, which can be added when more money is available.
“There has been criticism that we’ll build a bridge that doesn’t support rail,” the governor said. “That’s not true. The bridge will support the rail. The question is the rest of the system that doesn’t exist. We’re actually building a bridge that is ahead of the existing system.”
Thursday, March 1, 2012
High (Line) Hopes for New Jersey
Similar dreams, struggles and efforts to create High Line's all around the world, this one is closer to home!
High Line Hopes in Jersey City
After a seemingly endless legal battle, Jersey City is on the verge of getting its own version of Manhattan's High Line.
An abandoned elevated railway known as the Sixth Street Embankment has been the subject of a litigious preservation effort for more than a decade. Local groups and city officials want to transform the half-a-mile long stone structure into a grassy, landscaped park with skyline views, spanning Jersey City's gentrifying neighborhoods.
The park is also envisioned as an important link in a greenway spanning the East Coast.
Now, after a federal judge ruled against a developer blocking the park, a settlement that would hand control of the railway to Jersey City has been drafted and is awaiting approval.
"This has been an epic legal struggle," said William Matsikoudis, the Jersey City municipal attorney, who estimated the city has spent more than $500,000 in legal fees on the battle. "We're one step away from a settlement that will provide a world-class amenity for the people for Jersey City."
So far, the settlement has been tentatively approved by two of the three main litigants: Jersey City officials and Steve Hyman, a Manhattan investor who purchased the embankment from Consolidated Rail Corp. for $3 million in 2003 to knock it down and build housing. The city sued Conrail for making the sale, and Mr. Hyman, in turn, sued the city.
Under the terms of the settlement, the city would pay Mr. Hyman $7 million and Conrail would chip in $13 million to settle all the pending litigation, according to people familiar with the matter. Conrail would get development rights along the edges of the embankment, which could yield at least 300 housing units potentially valued at $10.5 million, other people familiar with the matter said.
The Jersey City Council is set to vote on the settlement Wednesday, and it appears likely to pass, said Councilman Steven Fulop, a project proponent.
The last remaining obstacle is Conrail, which is still examining the deal and wants a "number of open items" addressed, said Kevin Coakley, a partner at Connell Foley, who is representing the company. He wouldn't elaborate. "Conrail is hopeful a settlement can be achieved," he said.
Mr. Hyman, who has spent millions of dollars on the court cases, has signed the settlement, said one of his attorneys, Daniel Horgan. "Everybody wants it over with," said Mr. Horgan. "We would like everybody else to sign on it."
Even with Conrail's approval, the Jersey City version of the High Line may be a long way from reality. Initial construction could begin next year, Mr. Matsikoudis said, but designs haven't been finalized for the 110-year-old structure, formally known as the Harsimus Stem Embankment. The city would likely hold a design competition.
Still, hopes are high. It is "equal to or better than New York's High Line," said city Mayor Jerramiah Healy in a statement.
The sandstone-and-granite structure rises to 27 feet at its highest point and once carried Pennsylvania Railroad freight trains along seven tracks to the Hudson River waterfront. Conrail took over the embankment in the 1970s, but rail traffic ceased and nature took over. Ivy covers the walls and the structure is now a regular way station for monarch butterflies migrating from Canada to Mexico.
Early ideas to transform it into a park include landscaping the trees and plants already growing on top. A meandering walking trail and a bike path are possibilities along the 100-foot wide embankment, which is wider than the High Line, said Stephen Gucciardo, president of the Embankment Preservation Coalition, a volunteer group formed to save the historic relic.
Advocates want a "grand entrance" to the park's eastern section, while the western section would return to ground level and connect to the Bergen Arches, a railroad tunnel that runs through the Palisades.
The abandoned tunnel feels remote despite the highways and development around it, said Mr. Gucciardo. "It's like coming upon some kind of Mayan temple that has been overgrown. It's lost in time," he said.
The dream for advocates is to connect the embankment to the 2,600-mile East Coast Greenway, a trail that is under development from Maine to Florida. In New Jersey, 20% of the 93-mile trail is complete, said Rails to Trails, an advocacy group that promotes trails along railways.
The saga over the Sixth Street Embankment began in 1998, when former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler decided to knock it down for housing.
There was an outcry from residents, who in 1999 succeeded in getting the embankment added to the State Register of Historic Places. The City Council voted in 2004 to take it over for a 6.5-acre park by eminent domain.
The city sued Conrail in 2005 for selling the land to Mr. Hyman, who then filed a dozen separate suits over myriad issues involving the land.
Settlement negotiations got a shot in the arm Friday when the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Hyman's case and backed the city.
Write to Heather Haddon at email@example.com