By Alex Robinson
A Murray Hill bridge, closed for years so it could be rebuilt, needs to be completely reconstructed for a second time, elected officials announced last week.
The 149th Street Bridge, which connects Roosevelt and 41st avenues over Long Island Rail Road tracks, has been closed to traffic since 2010 for the project. The bridge was originally scheduled to be completed in November 2011, but has faced years of delays after the first reconstruction was deemed unsafe by the city.
“It’s extremely disappointing that we have to start this project again from square one,” state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said. “However, I am optimistic that this new administration is working as quickly as possible to get this bridge completed and reopened. I know that residents and business owners are extremely frustrated with what has become an over four-year process, and I pledge to hold the Department of Transportation accountable to their new deadline.”
Construction of the bridge was completed in May 2011, but it was never reopened as it was deemed unsafe because of cracks the city discovered.
The city is now suing the contractor it hired to design and build the bridge, Gandhi Engineering, for damages “as a result of breach of contract and professional malpractice,” according to court documents filed in state Supreme Court.
The city’s suit contends the firm failed to build a bridge “sufficient for its intended purpose of carrying vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
Gandhi Engineering declined to comment about the lawsuit’s allegations.
The bridge opened back up to pedestrians in summer 2012, but was still closed to vehicular traffic, much to the chagrin of adjacent business owners, who said they have suffered financially because of the construction.
“Customers don’t come here,” said Chun Hyukin, owner of Su Ra Chung Korean Restaurant, at 149-09 41st Ave. “They turn around when they see the barriers.”
Dae Chong Chang, who owns a video store directly across from the bridge, said he has seen his profits fall by more than 30 percent since the bridge closed down.
“Our business has been badly impacted,” he said through a translator.
DOT officials gave updates on the bridge last week to Stavisky, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) in a closed-door meeting, according to Stavisky.
The city is in the process of redesigning the bridge and expects to put out a request for proposals in two months, she said.
City DOT will then start construction nine months after the RFP is issued and expects the bridge will be completed by November 2015.
A DOT spokeswoman said the agency’s top priority is public safety and the bridge will remain closed until it is deemed safe for traffic.
“The agency continues to meet with local stakeholders on this, including at last week’s event, and we will continue to provide updates to the community as we work to reopen this important connection,” she said in a statement.
Stavisky said she and her elected colleagues have requested future periodic status updates on the project and have urged Queens DOT Commissioner Dalila Hall to meet with the neighborhood’s business owners to talk about the plan.
“The inability to open the 149th Street Bridge for four years is a sign that our government bureaucracies have been failing our communities in Flushing,” Kim said.
“The community has waited way too long,” he added.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.