Long live the Lefferts Boulevard bridge.
At a Wednesday meeting with elected officials and civic leaders, Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng said the MTA has devised a plan to save the Kew Gardens span and the handful of small businesses on top of it, according to multiple people who were at the gathering.
“It was a productive meeting. The LIRR came back and said there’s a way to fix the bridge to make it stable,” Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D-Flushing) told the Chronicle on Wednesday. “There’s a very clear pathway forward to rehabilitate the bridge. Nothing is done until its done, but it was a very optimistic meeting.”
The MTA originally said last May that the century-old span had decayed to the point where it would have to be torn down come 2020 — the year the entrepreneurs’ collective lease expires.
But in the 14 months since, mass community outrage led to both the MTA softening its position and state lawmakers passing legislation calling for a bridge rehabilitation feasibility study.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) even allocated $1 million for one.
But shortly after Eng took over as the head of the LIRR, he met with area lawmakers and civic leaders in June to hear their concerns and discuss how to potentially save the span.
In the following six weeks, Rosenthal said, Eng stayed true to his word.
“I’m not an engineer, but there is a way to — underneath the bridge — remove the deteriorating concrete and replace it,” the assemblyman said. “Today, [the LIRR] came back and they showed it was more than just words. They showed they have a realistic, tenable plan.”
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) added he isn’t counting his chickens just yet, but that it appears the bridge is “on the way” to being rescued.
“[Eng] expressed confidence that the structure can be repaired within a reasonable scope,” he said, “that the business owners will no longer have to stare down at the LIRR tracks through holes in their stores and that they’ll be able to keep conducting their businesses.”
In terms of the project’s scope, Comrie and Rosenthal said that is still up in the air — more will be known once a contractor has been selected.
But the former said the MTA hopes to have the work done in nine months or less — at least before the businesses’ collective lease runs out.
“They don’t want to lollygag,” he said. “They want to get it done.”
Eng deserves a lot of credit for the MTA’s change of heart, Rosenthal said, as the previous leadership at the LIRR seemed adverse to the thought of even trying to save the bridge.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Rosenthal said. “He told us he wanted to help save the bridge and he came back with a plan to do it. He’s been terrific.”
“Eng is someone who has a technical background and has worked on many projects,” Comrie added. “If he thinks it’s doable, I have a lot of confidence that it’s doable.”
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Koslowitz applauded Eng for listening to the community and taking action.
“Speaking for myself, my fellow legislators and the Kew Gardens community, I commend President Phillip Eng for his willingness to reexamine the problem, bringing his professional abilities and background to the analysis, and concluding that the bridge does not have to be demolished,” Koslowitz said. “I am pleased that I was able to secure the funding to make this repair possible.”
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Eng thanked Koslowitz for her allocation and said the agency, after taking another look at the bridge, decided the best use of the funds would be to "directly repair" it by the end of next year.
“We’re looking to expedite a procurement and have the interested parties bid both cost and schedule so we can evaluate the best value proposition,” Eng said. “The repairs we plan are significant, and will make the platforms safe for continued retail use.”