Coalition petitions for bridge to unite two sides of Vannie

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Bronx community groups are banding together to pressure the city to build a pedestrian bridge over the Major Deegan Expressway in Van Cortlandt Park.

Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality started a petition last week, which BCEQ member Karen Argenti said is the beginning of a grass roots movement to make the city follow through on its promise to build a foot bridge.

Organizers say the structure is needed to replace a critical gap in the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail that was severed by the construction of the Deegan in 1956.

The Old Croton Aqueduct was one of the original water supply lines for New York City that began operating in 1842 and was later turned into parkland in 1968, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.  

There is currently no way to cross the Deegan in Van Cortlandt Park, even though there are large expanses on either side of the highway.  

In 1999, the City Council approved a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application by the DEP to site the Croton Water Filtration Plant underneath the Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park. The council approved the plan with a list of provisions, including that the Department of Parks and Recreation study the feasibility of a footbridge across the Deegan. If the study determined the bridge was feasible, the DEP was to give Parks money to build it.

Parks commissioned a study, to be completed by 2002, but which was released in 2010. Philip Habib and Associates determined that it was feasible to build the bridge and outlined three options, ranging in cost from $3 to $6 million, for where it could be built.

But DEP deputy commissioner Mark Lanaghan said in October that there was no funding available for the project and no promise of future funding. 

Ms. Argenti said she hoped the petition, addressed to DEP commissioner Carter Strickland, would garner public support for the bridge. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 66 signatures online.

The CFMC — which includes chairs of Community Board 7, 8 and 12, as well as Councilman Oliver Koppell — also recently sent a letter to the mayor and to the City Council asking it to allocate funding for the bridge.

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail stops at the Deegan and the planned bridge would reconnect the southeast section of Vannie with the west side of the park. The city plans to spend $50 million to renovate a part of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail — the High Bridge over the Harlem River. Construction is slated to begin in the spring.

Ms. Argenti said Van Cortlandt Park’s portion should not be ignored. She noted that after the city spends $50 million on the High Bridge, any hiker who planned to walk the entire Croton Aqueduct Trail would be stopped in their tracks inside Vannie.

“They’re going to get lost in the middle by the Deegan. It’s ludicrous,” she said.

Organizers said they have reached out to other groups, including the Save the Putnam Trail and Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, to join them. The Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy also supports a footbridge. 

“This is just a beginning and we will get everyone working together because everyone wants this and it’s incredibly important to the Bronx,” FIPNA president Kristin Hart said.

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