81st St. bridge project near completion

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Officials say design changes and fabrication problems led to setbacks


  • A rendering of the 81st Street pedestrian bridge, as seen from the John Finley Walk. Courtesy: NYC Department of Design and Construction

The long-awaited East 81st Street Pedestrian Bridge, designed to link the Upper East Side and East River Esplanade, is now expected to be complete by December 2017, city officials said during a community meeting Thursday night.

Several of the 30 residents attending the meeting at the Chapin School were relieved to hear the project, into its third year of construction but in the planning for more than 10 years, would soon be accessible. “It’s great to hear this project will be reaching its rightful conclusion,” Lisa Paule said following the meeting.

The bridge was initially expected to take 18 months to rebuild. Many neighbors, such as Cynthia Kramer, grew frustrated with the prolonged reconstruction. “It’s going to be beautiful, but it is comforting to hear there is a plan in place,” she said, referring to presentation given by the project coordinator from the city’s Department of Design and Construction, Christopher Esposito Barnard.

Barnard’s presentation outlined the delays as results of an unforeseen north abutment retrofit, design changes and fabrication of stainless steel.

An initial survey of the column supporting the southeast corner of John Finley Walk indicated a more significant retrofit would be necessary to ensure safety. The repair’s design and execution pushed back the project by eight months, he said.

Prompted by the concerns from members of Community Board 8, officials from the city’s Public Design Commission had demanded that DDC reconsider some design elements of the project, including installing a pedestrian viewing window on John Finley Walk, addressing lighting concerns, and reconsidering the design of an access ramp on 81st Street.

In response, the DDC fit the bridge with 24 glass windows on its southern side, removed five light fixtures, reduced the wattage of the bulbs, and eliminated the addition of an accessible ramp from the contract. There will be ADA approved accessible ramps on 82nd and 83rd streets. The design changes cost the project about five months.

The last piece of the project is the installation of stainless-steel fencing, projected to last over 75 years. Due to fabrication complications out of state, the custom-made steel is now being manufactured on-site. Given the proximity of the East River, it is crucial that the bridge is durable, Barnard said.

Although delays were frustrating, Barnard ensured “the bridge is designed to be retrofitted with ease in the future.”

The Parks Department will maintain the bridge, including by removing snow.

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