CITY ISLAND BRIDGE ISSUES

Issue

A relatively new online group, which has been gaining strength over the past few months is making an effort to organize City Islanders as they prepare for a scheduled public hearing with NYC officials.

City Islanders and Friends posted the following comments online... Our group, City Islanders & Friends, now more than 960 members strong, has discussed the City Island Bridge issue in some depth. We've also taken several surveys.

Out of about 15 concerns, the top issue was that the different options for the City Island Bridge were NOT given a fair and hard look, and the result was not the best possible choice. There may be a better way to proceed that is not being pursued because it was never seriously considered. "A better way" may result in a safer, more reliable, less problematic, longer-lasting, and maybe even better looking bridge. It may also include a shorter construction time and lower costs.

There may be an option that includes all of these features. Perhaps not. We'd like to see a better process, resulting in a plan supported by hard facts, not unsubstantiated assertions, incomplete and faulty analyses, denials and misrepresentations. We who rely on this bridge should be on board with this plan and we should be convinced that the best choice was made, but we're not, and for good reason. The process has been flawed. At this point, it is both flawed and obsolete because the challenges of climate change can no longer be ignored. It's time to acknowledge the deficiencies and fix them by starting over and doing it right.

Here are the main points that were made:

1. The Choices. Options for the bridge, other than the one that was chosen, were not given a fair and hard look. The existing bridge has served City Island well for more than 100 years, and remains functional today, despite a history of neglect and poor maintenance. The existing bridge, with piers, has a proven track record and should be rebuilt, say 75% of our surveyed members. That option, which was hastily dismissed using false information, should be given a very serious second look.

2. The Process. Many of the problems seem to be associated with the process by which the City Island Bridge replacement plan was hatched. Instead of objectively considering various options and a full set of criteria that needed to be met and problems that needed to be avoided, one engineer apparently decided (or was instructed) to push an agenda calling for an asymmetrical single-tower, cable stayed bridge--and forget about anything else. He then cherry picked arguments, ignored some facts, misrepresented other facts, and was backed up by a professor in France, a paid consultant and a poor substitute for an independent second opinion. The Community had no input. The result is unsatisfactory. There are many important unanswered, partially and untruthfully answered questions.

3. The Result. Incredibly, the proposed bridge is not expected to match, much less surpass, the performance of the existing bridge.Why not reconstruct the existing time-tested bridge using even better materials and protections that have been developed during the past century? We understand that the new bridge will be wider to meet current standards. The width will allow for future repairs with less impact on traffic from lane closures. The narrowness of the existing bridge is a constant that brings down its rating following every routine inspection. That, and damage to the bridge by the elements over time, are why the exisiting bridge needs either extensive renovation and repair, or replacement. It should probably also be built higher and stronger, to accommodate climate change.
But instead of just making the needed improvements, a more radical decision was made to replace the existing bridge with a whole new design, one that is untested in New York City. It is a design that not only cannot improve on the track record of the existing bridge, but which also carries with it new concerns and new problems which never existed with the bridge we have now. In the end, even the theoretical and purely speculative predictions conclude that the proposed bridge probably won't even last as long, will require more maintenance (such as bridge dampers to mitigate wind effects), and will cost more to construct and maintain.

4. The Deception. How did the engineer defend his choice? By falsely claiming that if a new bridge were built in the same style as the 110-year-old bridge, it will not last 110 years, but only a few decades because its piers would rapidly deteriorate. Yet we know from direct experience that that is not true. Incredible.
The main argument for changing designs was to avoid having piers in the water because, it was argued, corrosion by the water would damage these piers and shorten the lifespan of the bridge. The existing bridge has piers in the water, but it also has lasted more than a century. So verifiable and observable real facts prove that the main theoretical argument made to justify the design choice for the new bridge was dead wrong.

5. The Evasion. The new design comes with an estimated lifespan of only 70 years. Yet, it will be much more expensive to build and to maintain. DOT has failed to substantiate its claim that the proposed bridge will not require as much maintenance as a reconstructed existing bridge, a structure has survived 110 years with very little maintenance.
The proposed bridget also has not been evaluated for its capability to meet the formidable challenges of climate change. It comes with new concerns regarding wind (and possible if not probable need for costly abatement), new safety concerns when being used both normally and under various weather conditions, new hazards from accumulating and falling snow and/or ice from the tower, unknown contributions to noise pollution, etc. Thus, the new bridge design will create a host of new environmental issues and other problems that have not been addressed, much less resolved. Only a few of these, such as wind, have been addressed, and even those were left to be solved in the future. Incomplete consideration and resolution of both impacts and troubleshooting issues is unsatisfactory and unacceptable.

6. The Look. One could argue that the proposed cable-stayed bridge's height, appearance, and lack of historical texture are incompatible with its surroundings. At least the last two of these could be remedied. There are attractive cable-stayed bridges that sort of look like a sailboat, for example--in Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Mexico. Although we are not convinced that a cable-stayed bridge is the best choice for other reasons, the model chosen appears to have been selected arbitrarily. Apparently no effort was made to choose a bridge that was more compatible with the designated Special City Island District, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zone/zh_special_purp_bx.shtml, or acceptable to the community. City Planning designated The Special City Island District to preserve the character that is vital to our economy and unique identity. But the design and its need for a tall tower raise even more serious concerns, involving safety, maintenance, performance during severe weather, and more.

7. The Height. The bridge Height issue is much more than just an aesthetic concern. Let's talk safety: What safety concerns are associated with the bridge's tall tower--under normal conditions, with strong winds, and when winter storms deposit snow and ice? What will happen when snow and ice way up on the tower and cables falls on passing cars? Under what weather conditions would the bridge have to be closed? The towers have been shortened drastically from the original proposal. Are the shortened towers compromising any features of the bridge, such as durability, stability, lifespan, maintenance, etc.? Does a shorter tower carry more or less risk, or are there different risks? Does the shorter tower reduce one risk and introduce another? Why was the initially proposed tower 3X the height if it didn't have to be? Was a poor decision made? Or does the shorter tower compromise other important considerations? The cable-stayed design requires answers to these questions. We need a bridge for all seasons and all weather conditions. Only the existing bridge has proven to be up to the task.

8. The Temp. Should we forego the temporary bridge? The plan calls for a 3-lane temporary bridge consisting of 2 traffic lanes and one emergency lane. This bridge will be built, our existing bridge will then be demolished, and a new bridge built in the same location as the existing bridge, except that it will be one lane wider. During construction of the new bridge, which will take a few years, the temporary bridge will be the only way to drive on and off the island. Could a Storm like Sandy destroy the temporary bridge? Is the temporary bridge strong enough, should we make it stronger, or avoid it altogether? The temporary bridge 1) adds to the total construction time; 2) delays the date of completion; 3) adds to cost. Should we eliminate the temporary bridge from the plan and build the new bridge along side the existing bridge?

The alternative would be to build the new bridge adjacent to the existing bridge and continue to use the old bridge until the new one is finished. This would save time and money. Would it also be safer and more reliable in the most severe weather?
The downside is that the existing bridge already occupies the shortest gap between City Island and the mainland. The temporary bridge allows for the new bridge to be the shortest distance possible by building on the same exact spot as the existing bridge. Without the temporary bridge, the new bridge would have to be a little bit longer, but how many feet longer? Perhaps curved as well. We'd need to know the details because we have to live with the new permanent bridge. It's a trade off. So which is the preferable route? It seems we need more information on exactly how much different the final result will be, for example how much longer, curved, etc., to make the best decision.

9. The Future. Has DOT consulted with experts regarding the ability of this now decade-old bridge design to handle climate change, rising sea levels, and major storms? If so, where is this documented? And if not, why not? Despite the lesson that should have been learned from Hurricane Sandy, it seems that we are still pursuing a bridge design from the previous decade when both awareness and concern were at a much lower level. Are we going to use this obsolerte design to build a bridge of the past, or are we going to take a second look and be sure that we build a bridge for the future? A serious and knowledgable inquiry is needed to determine how high the bridge itself--not the tower--should be to give us a fighting chance against the challenges of climate change, the magnitude of which we can only guess.

10. The Contract. Why did DOT select Tutor Perini, a contractor that has a long history of litigation and cost overruns, including allegations of fraud and racketeering, some of them in New York City? The impacts of construction on our community will be severe enough without being made worse by choosing a contractor with a history of delays that were often self created. How does NYC plan to compensate us for these unnecessary losses? Why did DOT previously choose to proceed with a firm that has never built a cable-stayed bridge?

11. CONCLUSIONS

The NYC DOT is preparing to forge ahead with a bridge restoration plan that did not result from a careful consideration of CHOICES, using a PROCESS that lacks both integrity and credibility, lacks community input and lacks an independent second opinion. The RESULT is a bridge that may never have been the best choice, was defended from the beginning using DECEPTION, and now, 10 years later, is also obsolete. Problems and concerns were delat with through EVASION. The LOOK of the bridge appears to be the result of little or no effort to design a structure compatible with the area's history or theme. The HEIGHT of the tower has fluctuated widely with no explanation of the impacts and/or ramifications of such variation. The wisdom of building a TEMPorary bridge needs to be re-examined. The challenges of Climate Change need to be assessed and the resulting bridge design needs to be capable of dealing with those FUTURE challenges. The CONTRACT needs to be awarded to a reputable firm that will not create additional unnecessary hardships on top of the unavoidable inconveniences.

There is no shortage of red flags suggesting that, throughout the many stages of this process, DOT did not act responsibly to make the best choices and ensure the best possible results. And after all these years, too many issues remain ignored and unresolved.

Most problems and concerns, and all controversies, will vanish if we simply rebuild the success story of the past. Reconstruct the bridge that has proven its reliability, its resilience, its safey, and longevity. Make it wider to meet current standards, higher to meet the challenges of climate change, and stronger to reflect the advancements of the past century, but otherwise, just fix what's broken. Don't replace a bridge of known safety and effectiveness with an experiment that has not even come close to being thoroughly thought through.

The Bottom Line is this: Why not just find a reputable contractor to reconstruct a wider, higher and even stronger version of the existing bridge?

By: Richard Jannaccio Respond below, or e-mail contact - richard_jannaccio@yahoo.com