By Gary Buiso
Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway bridges are literally falling down—but it’s nothing that over half a billion dollars can’t fix, officials said last week. As early as 2009, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin reconstruction of seven bridges and their approaches to the parkway. The first phase of the project—the reconstruction of three structures—is expected to cost $330 million, according to David Dunn, the director of roadway bridges for the DOT. An agency spokesperson said estimates for the remainder of the project are not yet available, as they have not gone up for contractor bid yet. Dunn told Community Board 18 last week that the Phase I money, federal funds which are administered by the state, is in place. The bridges that will be overhauled include: Bay Ridge Avenue, Nostrand Avenue, Gerritsen Inlet, Paerdegat Basin, Mill Basin, Rockaway Parkway and Fresh Creek. According to the agency, the bridges were built beginning in 1939, and have all “outlived their useful lives and must be replaced.” The Fresh Creek, Gerritsen Inlet, Rockaway Parkway, Nostrand Avenue and Bay Ridge Avenue will be rebuilt “on-line,” Dunn said. That means they will be refurbished piece by piece, with lane closures to accommodate construction activity. Three lanes will be maintained in each direction during peak hours, he said. Lane closures can be expected during non-rush hours or on nights or weekends. Traffic will not be routed onto local streets, Dunn pledged. The new Mill Basin and Paerdegat Basin bridges will be constructed alongside the aged structures, with traffic remaining on the existing bridges until the new structures are completed, he said. Work on Rockaway Parkway, Fresh Creek Paerdegat Basin will begin first, starting in the spring of 2009, according to the DOT. The Paerdegat Basin Bridge will see a major change in its appearance, DOT plans reveal. The existing 13-span bridge will be demolished and replaced by two new bridges and new approach roadways on split alignments, according to the DOT. The southern structure will carry eastbound traffic while the northern structure will carry westbound traffic. Work on the Gerritsen Inlet and Mill Basin bridges will start in 2010, and Bay Ridge Avenue and Nostrand Avenue beginning in 2011. The Mill Basin Bridge will see a significant change. It will go from being a drawbridge—the only movable bridge on the Belt Parkway—to a fixed structure. It will also be taller, with clearance over the water going from 35 feet to 60 feet—eliminating the need for opening and closing the structure to accommodate passing ships. The new design of the bridge will also see lane width increased to 12 feet, and the addition of safety shoulders in both directions. Each project will also see the greening of the area near the structure, with landscaping anticipated. “We have taken pains to save as many trees as we can,” Dunn said. Dunn said that throughout the project, three lanes will be maintained in both directions during rush hours. Bicycle and pedestrian paths will be maintained at all times on the four bridges (Gerritsen Inlet, Mill Basin, Paerdegat Basin, and Fresh Creek Basin) that have them. According to the DOT, traffic along the Belt Parkway has “increased dramatically” over the past 60 years. A series of factors—including the opening of New York International Airport (today John F. Kennedy International Airport), the rise of Long Island’s suburbs post-World War II, and the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964—are thought to have increased demand on the parkway. When the parkway first opened, the two-way average daily traffic was roughly 20,000 vehicles a day. Today, that number is about 150,000 cars per day, according to the DOT. Reconstruction is necessary to “alleviate substandard conditions” and bring the roadways into compliance with state and federal standards—including wider lanes, 12-foot shoulders and median barriers, the agency asserts. The DOT estimates that the improvements will reduce the current accident rate on this section of the parkway by about 45 percent. Dunn vowed that his agency is taking the massive project “very seriously,” adding that officials would return to the community board late this year or early 2009 for a briefing just prior to construction.