The span of the Hell Gate Bridge is familiar to anyone who has walked along the waterfront in Astoria Park.
The largest of three iconic bridges that form the Hell Gate complex, it is probably most recognizable for its metal arches and masonry towers but unlike its neighbors, it is barely visible at night.
“I’ve lived in Astoria for 45 years,” Antonio Meloni, director of New York Anti Crime, said. “Everyone knows the Hell Gate. It seems like every time you see a TV show or watch a movie, they always use it as a backdrop, which is really nice.”
Meloni is spearheading an initiative to renovate the bridge — which carries freight and passenger trains to and from Queens and Brooklyn — by repainting the metal beams and adding lights.
“It doesn’t really make sense to me,” he said. “I only live two blocks from the park and I can’t believe the difference between the Triborough and Hell Gate.”
Inspiration struck when Meloni was watching TV on New Year’s Eve.
“They show Australia, Hong Kong, all of these countries celebrating New Year’s while we wait for the ball to drop in Times Square,” he said.
When the camera showed Sydney celebrating, something caught his eye. The Sydney Harbour Bridge looked just like the span Meloni had seen outside his school window for years.
“The Harbour Bridge looked so nice with the fireworks and the lights and I just thought of how good Hell Gate would look if it was lit up like that,” Meloni said.
In fact, not only do the bridges look remarkably alike, the Hell Gate Bridge was the inspiration for the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Astoria resident has been reaching out to companies to propel his idea forward.
Most recently, he reached out to Con Edison to see if the electric group would be willing to donate its expertise to see if lighting the bridge is plausible.
“We’re not looking to do anything fancy,” Meloni said. “Maybe they can donate solar panels. We want minimal cost and minimal effect on the environment.”
Not only does Meloni, who is the Public Safety chairman for Community Board 1, think the bridge would be visually appealing with lights, it would also make residents feel safer.
A Long Island City resident who owns a lighting firm offered to assist Meloni with the project. He plans on presenting the concept to elected officials, community boards and civic groups to rally support.
What’s more, the bridge will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2016.
“I think it could really bring the community together,” Meloni said. “We can have schoolchildren create designs for what they want the bridge to look like and things like that. I want to keep it simple, I don’t want it to be garish but right now, three little lights for such a massive span is not enough.”
He recognized that the idea may be controversial, but said he would love to see an illuminated Hell Gate Bridge in the near future.
“The usual naysayers, they’re the ones who say, ‘Why?,’” Meloni said. “I say ‘Why not?’”