I had heard the future of the Bayonne Bridge might be in question. But I didn't realize how soon the question might be settled.
What you're reading was supposed to be a sort of photographic love letter to the Bayonne Bridge.
The desire to create such a letter came about during a recent picture-taking session on the bridge, when I renewed my appreciation for that extraordinary aggregation of steel and concrete and sky.
As a proper lead-in, I wanted to top the page with the appropriate photo--something suitably noble, something better than what I, aspiring to amateur status as a picture-taker, could produce. In trying to locate such an image, I came across this chilling headline in The Journal of Commerce Online, in an April 23 news story by Peter Tirschwell:
"Bayonne Bridge Replacement Gains Favor."
That article appeared more than a month ago, I realized, embarrassed at not having read or heard an update on it before this.
The favor such an idea is gaining among decision- makers, and those who influence them, is no doubt related to the sudden availability of federal infrastructure dollars.
But based on what I've read from several presumably knowledgeable sources, there's also a very real problem with the bridge--one that directly affects the fiscal health and job-generating capacity of our regional ports and the shipping firms that use them.
The Bayonne is simply too short. Too short to allow even existing vessels to pass under it without complicated maneuvers and operational and timing adjustments related to the flow of the tides.
And it's way too short as well to accommodate the much larger container ships that will become common when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014. If we can't accommodate the ships now, and will be even less able in the near future, another port will get the business.
HARD TO OPPOSE
The article, appearing as it does in a major online business publication, has that sober, inevitable-sounding tone that power brokers adopt when they want to foreclose all opposition.
And there certainly will be opposition, on aesthetic and historical grounds.
But it's hard to see how one can make a case for retention of the bridge, once you understand what's at stake for the regional shipping and port industries and the thousands of people they employ.
A NEW BRIDGE? MAYBE.
BUT ONE THAT'S FOR WALKERS AND CYCLISTS, TOO.
Decision time will arrive once a study from
the Army Corps of Engineers--commissioned by the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey--is completed this summer. The Port Authority and local
and Congressional political leaders will insist on playing a role in what's built, how, and by whom. Staten Islanders should insist on their right to a decision-making role as well.
At the very least, we should demand that the new bridge be designed and built as a resource for use by people as well as cars and boats. That means development of recreational facilities as part of some sort of bridge plaza on the Staten Island side, to maximize active public use of the land by the community, rather than doing the usual passive landscaping meant to be seen (and maintained) but never actually used.
Replacement and widening of the walkway, for healthy personal transportation via walking or bicycling and other recreational purposes, should be a non-negotiable must.
Something else to write Mike McMahon about. And judging from what I've read, we'll need to get started soon.