As rain drizzled and traffic zoomed along the Major Deegan Expressway on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters gathered on opposite sides of the highway to call for a pedestrian bridge that would unite both halves of Van Cortlandt Park.
“Build the bridge! Fulfill your promise!” the men, women and children organized by Community Board 8 and Friends of Van Cortlandt Park shouted around the halfway point of where the Deegan cuts through the greenery, while some motorists honked in support.
With funding that could have gone to the bridge long ago allocated to other projects, the demonstration was a symbolic gesture. Calls for the structure date back to 1999, when the City Council approved the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application to locate the Croton Water Filtration Plant underneath Van Cortlandt Park’s Mosholu Golf Course.
Among the council’s stipulations, the DEP had to commission a feasibility study for the pedestrian bridge while evaluating other parks improvement projects that lawmakers extracted in exchange for locating the plant under the golf course. But the study did not come until years after about $200 million total set aside for the parks improvements had been doled out, with a 2010 evaluation deeming the bridge technically feasible. An engineering firm placed the price tag for the structure at about $3 to $6 million.
In the face of ongoing calls for the bridge, DEP officials say that barring a drastic change in course, it is too late to build it now. The Croton plant itself remains a point of contention in the community, with residents furious at years of delays and cost overruns.
“New Yorkers want DEP to stay focused on keeping their water bills as low as possible, which means ensuring that our resources are only used for critical projects that will ensure a reliable source of high quality drinking water and continue to improve the health of New York harbor,” spokesman Ted Timbers said in an e-mail.