Benefits of Belt Bridge project extolled for local residents

Canarsiens can look forward to better visibility and wider lanes on the Belt Parkway, thanks to the current roadway project being undertaken by the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT).

The project, which involves the reconstruction of seven bridges along the highway, will last for seven years in all, with the work being undertaken in three segments, DOT representatives told members of the United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA), gathered at the Hebrew Educational Society, 9502 Seaview Avenue, for their February meeting.

The first segment of the project, which began in October 2009, and will last till October 2014, involves the reconstruction of the three bridges nearest the neighborhood — one at Rockaway Parkway, one at Fresh Creek Basin and one at Paerdegat Basin (which will be replaced by two separate bridges) — as well as the roadway connecting the three spans, and access ramps.

Following the roadway and bridge work, DOT will commence landscaping of the adjacent areas, which, for the next few years, are going to “look like the surface of the moon,” said Joannene Kidder, executive director of the DOT’s Division of Bridges. “That’s the single biggest impact you will see right away,” she said of the removal of thousands of trees that “had to be taken down.”

The landscaping portion of the project should last from the fall of 2014 through the end of 2016. The trees, shrubs and other greenery that are planted will be “appropriate” to the location,said Frank Gallo, program manager at GPI/CTE.

The second segment of the project, which will run from 2011 to 2015, involves the replacement of the bridge over Gerritsen Inlet and the replacement of the Mill Basin drawbridge with a considerably higher fixed bridge with enough clearance to allow waterway traffic to pass underneath.

The third portion of the project, which will run from 2012 to 2015, will encompass the redecking of the bridge at Bay Ridge Avenue as well as the replacement of the Nostrand Avenue bridge.

The purpose of dividing the project into segments, said Gallo, is to “minimize traffic delays.” In addition, Gallo said, by grouping the bridges together, DOT was able to attract “bigger contractors.”

All of the bridges were built around 1940, noted Gallo, and are in “fair” condition. “These bridges have outlived their useful life,” he stressed. The new bridges, Gallo added, will not only be more functional but more aesthetically pleasing.

The “sight distance” along the roadway will be enhanced, Gallo said, so drivers have a better view of potential obstacles in the distance. “Right now, we have a problem on the Belt with dips and bumps in the road,” in terms of visibility, he stressed.

The replacement of the Mill Basin drawbridge by a fixed bridge will be a significant boon to traffic flow, Gallo noted. “When it’s open, there’s a problem,” he remarked. “Traffic backs up to Topeka, Kansas.”

While the existing bridge is 35 feet over the surface of the water, the new bridge will be 60 feet above the channel, Gallo said.

The agency is trying to minimize impact on adjacent communities, representatives said. “It’s very important to mitigate the impacts as much as we can,” asserted Kidder.

Gallo told the group that, “During construction, we will not be detouring traffic onto local streets.” In addition, he said that bike and pedestrian access will be “maintained at all times,” both in terms of the Belt bridges, and in terms of the two piers that jut out from the roadway’s edge, in Canarsie and Bay Ridge.

On the roadway itself, he added, there will be “no lane closures during peak rush hour traffic.” A single lane will be closed in work areas, “Typically from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” and also after 10 p.m., with double lane closures restricted to the hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

DOT is also trying to give the contractors a financial reason to stay on schedule. The incentive/disincentive clause included in contracts means that contractors get an additional $35,000 per day for finishing early, and lose the same amount for if they are late in completing the project. “That’s got to get their attention,” Gallo said.

Nonetheless, residents seemed concerned about how the work might impact their community. Neal Duncan, UCSCA’s president, said that he was disturbed by the sight of construction equipment stored in open view adjacent to Veterans Memorial Circle, both because of aesthetics and because he fears they might be a dangerous distraction to drivers. “The program is going on till 2014, and we’re expected to look at that for all those years. Could they use a fabric fence?” Duncan wanted to know.

That, however, the contractor did not want to do, said Gallo, explaining that his concern was for the security of equipment and workers, that might be compromised by such an enclosure.

Another concern is the planned storage of workers’ cars on Canarsie Road. While DOT representatives hastened to reassure their listeners that there would be no construction vehicles or deliveries there, Duncan pointed out, “It’s a residential street, and there are kids on that street. I think it’s going to be very problematic. To us, it’s unacceptable.”

“We ask you to monitor that for us,” Kidder rejoined.

Besides the roadway work, DOT will also be doing environmental management work within Gateway National Recreation Area. This, said Gallo, is because the project is impacting adjacent wetlands, so the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “says we have to mitigate something else.”

To that end, Gallo went on, DOT will be removing debris and planting new grasses along a portion of shoreline at the edge of Floyd Bennett Field.