Union Street Bridge: DOT Seeking Public Input On Replacement Overpass

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[UPDATED: Thursday, October 11, 2018, 10:00am] A spokesperson for DOT responded, “This project is in its initial phases. We are currently studying the possibility of having a fixed bridge approved at this location by the Coast Guard. The first step in that process is a Navigation Study, which polls mariners and abutting property owners about how they use or are otherwise impacted by the waterway. The results of the survey will be compiled in a report that will help the agency decide whether it can move forward to further consider a fixed bridge alternative to a movable bridge.”

GOWANUS – Back in 2016, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) presented two preliminary options for replacing the 113-year-old Union Street Bridge—installing a movable bridge, similar to the current expanse, or building a fixed, unmovable structure.

Union Street Bridge Control Tower (Photo: Nathan Haselby)

The Union Street Bridge was damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and since then “has been operating with temporary equipment,” DNA Info reported in 2016. DOT recently announced that the agency is leaning toward going with the fixed bridge plan, according to an article in NewsDoc Voices. Should DOT choose to go with the less expensive fixed bridge, marine traffic would be limited and commercial vessels and taller boats, such as sailboats, would no longer be able to travel to and from the Northern part of the Gowanus Canal.

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DOT is currently conducting a survey and collecting comments from community members on their thoughts regarding the proposed fixed bridge. The deadline to submit feedback is Monday, October 15. 

“Help us convince the NYC DOT to keep the Union Street Bridge a movable bridge so boats can travel the entire Gowanus Canal,” a message on the Gowanus Dredgers website reads. Founded in 1999, the Gowanus Dredgers promote recreation, education, and advocacy in an effort to revive the Gowanus Canal and support the cleanup of the Superfund site.

While the Canal is rarely used by commercial boats these days, the Dredgers and others do use it currently for recreational purposes and they argue that deciding on a non-movable bridge now is “premature” as activities will only increase on the waterway after the EPA completes the cleanup.

“It is difficult to say what needs may emerge that require the Canal to be navigable all the way to the head of the Canal,” Brad Vogel, a member of the Gowanus Dredgers, said in a statement to BKLYNER. “We are all about activating the waterfront—what about a future ferry, floating art installations, small scale waterborne freight, or an historic or educational vessel?” he asked.

Vogel also notes the more immediate need to keep the waterway navigable through Union Street. “Dredging of the uppermost reach of the Gowanus Canal will require large vessels to pass above Union Street for years,” he added. “If the current Union Street Bridge is replaced with a bridge that cannot open, how will the Superfund cleanup be completed? How will vessels pass above Union Street to perform any additional maintenance or cleanup in the future?”

While the dredging and capping pilot program for the Gowanus Canal’s 4th Street Turning Basin is nearly complete, the next phase of the EPA cleanup will address dredging in the northern part of the canal. Cleanup of that section isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2022.

If a new fixed bridge is installed, the EPA will need to find alternative ways to transport the “black mayonnaise” workers remove from the head of the Canal since barges will not be able to pass Union Street. Only vessels shorter than seven and a half feet would be able to travel under a fixed bridge, DNA Info reported two years ago, and DOT “would have to cover the difference in cost between having the dredged sludge trucked out of the neighborhood instead of ferried out on barges.” The impending construction of a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) tank will also require large vessels to travel freely along the canal.

The Gowanus Dredgers are hosting an event at their boathouse (165 2nd Street) on Saturday, October 13, from 2pm to 5pm where visitors can complete a comment card which the Dredgers will include in their DOT submission.

Alternately, commenters can go to the Gowanus Dredgers website for a link to a form that can be completed and emailed to Alexander Murphy at alexander.murphy@stvinc.com (copy Rita Zbarsky at rzbarsky@dot.nyc.gov) by October 15, 2018. The Dredgers ask anyone responding to consider the “Canal’s potential after the Superfund clean-up” when commenting about what kind of bridge DOT should install.

“Given that the Union Street Bridge has been in service for over 100 years, we should not rush to replace it with a bridge that cannot open unless we are sure that nothing will emerge in coming decades that would require a moveable bridge,” Vogel insists. “And I don’t think we can be sure at this time.”

Roland Lewis, President & CEO of the Waterfront Alliance wants the bridge to remain movable. “Though the neighborhood may change around it, the Gowanus Canal is still a canal and a navigable waterway,” he said in a statement. “Making the Union Street a fixed bridge is a shortsighted mistake that will make the Superfund clean-up of the canal more difficult and much maritime use now and into the future impossible. Keep this bridge movable and this important canal open for boats.”

BKLYNER reached out to DOT requesting more information about the proposed Union Street Bridge plans, including a timeframe of when construction is expected to begin, but did not hear back prior to posting. We will update when we have more info.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The canal needs to be drained and cemented over. Let the High Line crew have at it. Make it a recreational park.

  2. The city needs to have this bridge operable for the boats they will need to move to the upper canal when they get to building the sewage holding tank in that area. The Borough President’s office reminded the DEP that the community expects their work to be done by boat on the canal and not over the congested streets. The EPA also reminded the city DEP that the work under the Superfund Record of Decision states that the work will be done by barge. The DOT should corporate with these requirements and keep the Union St operable to help avoid the excessive congestion that would be caused on the streets that DOT is accountable for.

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