The Kosciuszko Bridge is known for its panoramic views of Manhattan, as any driver stuck in traffic knows, but if the state Department of Transportation has its way, those views will soon be available to pedestrians, as drivers speed along on three additional lanes.
“It’s an expansion from six to nine lanes,” DOT spokesman Adam Levine said of designs presented at the Feb. 18 public hearing in Middle Village. “The entrance ramps will have two lanes to reduce congestion.”
Having already received the green light from the Federal Highway Administration, the DOT is now seeking public input on which of the four final designs is best for the $1.7 billion replacement structure. The federal government will finance 80 percent of the project’s cost.
“It’s a friendly competition,” said Levine. “Everyone’s on an equal footing. The timetables are approximately the same for each design.”
The options are a flat-looking box girder overpass, a deck arch beneath the roadway, a through arch above the roadway and a soaring cable-stayed span. All of the proposals feature a pedestrian and bicycle path on the Manhattan-facing side of the bridge.
“People would be able to bike across, and it’s a great view,” Ridgewood resident Leonard Cotugno said during the hearing. In the crowd of mostly middle-aged residents, some recalled a time when the crossing was still accessible to pedestrians, before a 1970s shoulder widening erased the sidewalk.
“I remember walking across it back in the 1960s,” Greenpoint native Larry Winters said. “When driving, you can still make out the old sidewalk on the bridge.”
Plans for the bridge’s replacement have been mired in delays for years, but with environmental impact studies and soil testing complete, transportation officials promise that the project will not disrupt the flow of traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which traverses the bridge.
“The department is committed to keeping six lanes open throughout the construction process,” project manager Robert Adams said. “There will be no detours, no diversions onto local streets.”
To minimize disruption to traffic, the new bridge will be built alongside the old one, and gradually, traffic will be shifted onto the new structure. To create space for the new Kosciuszko, several properties on the bridge’s eastern side will be taken over by the DOT. Assistance with relocation expenses will be provided.
“On the other side of the right of way, is the Calvary Cemetery, and we can’t expand there,” said Levine.
Beneath the bridge, there are plans for public spaces to replace a tow pound. These will include a new park underneath the Queens anchorage, a boat launch on the Greenpoint side and a shoreline restoration. The parks will include historical details on the bridge’s namesake, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, whose moniker adorns the plaque that sits atop the 80-year-old span. The Polish-American patriot’s name will be retained for the replacement bridge.
“My wife’s grandfather supposedly made the bronze plaque,” said Waters. “I would love to see it preserved.” Waters expressed support for the through arch design, provided that it will be “pigeon-proof.”
“The view from there is amazing,” said Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society. “I often wish I could step out of my car and take a picture.” A native of Maspeth, Wilkinson noted that her grandmother attended the opening of the old bridge in 1939.
At the time, war was looming and the federal government required a 128-foot clearance to enable large ships to pass underneath. The replacement bridge will still dominate the landscape, but will be 30 feet lower in height, reducing the strenuous climb for trucks and potential blind spots.
“They used to make ships on Newtown Creek, and they had to pass underneath,” said Wilkinson.
To reduce disruption to surrounding communities, some of the construction material will be brought in by barge to a staging area beneath the bridge.
Questions asked at the public forum involved security and cost overruns — which transportation officials said were addressed with input from federal authorities — and soil samples for pollutants along the project’s right of way. The new bridge’s minimum lifespan is expected to be 75 years.
The affected properties on the right of way will be acquired by 2013. Construction is expected to be complete by 2019.