Bronx-Whitestone Bridge Rehab
After 18 months of preparation, a rehabilitation project that will make the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge lighter, quieter and more structurally sound will get underway after the Memorial Day weekend, Frank Pascual of MTA Bridges and Tunnels told the Borough Board at the board’s May meeting last Thursday. The $136 million, one-year project has been designed to minimize inconvenience to the bridge’s 120,000 daily customers.
The bridge was reinforced with stiffening trusses several decades ago in an effort to make the structure less susceptible to twisting in strong wind, Pascual explained. These added another 1,300 tons to the weight of the bridge and made it resistant only to winds up to some 50 miles an hour at best. Those trusses were removed in 2003 and replaced with a new lightweight aerodynamic fairing that improved bridge performance in the wind. The rehabilitation project will make the bridge resistant to winds greater than 150 miles per hour, Ed Knightly, an MTA engineer who accompanied Pascual, told the board.
The current project also includes a major electrical upgrade, new roadway and tower lighting and new communications and fire standpipe systems. A new movable inspection platform has also been installed under the roadway.
Pascual stressed that the renovated bridge will be quieter. “There’s always been a noise concern, because the bridge essentially bounced on its concrete pedestals.” Pascual said. He added that the concrete roadway deck from Ferry Point in The Bronx to the bridge’s Queens terminus at Francis Lewis Park would be replaced with an orthotropic deck welded metal deck that is also lighter and stronger.
The renovations are expected to take some 10 months, starting May 31, with a work hiatus in winter when low temperatures, ice and snow significantly reduce the effectiveness of welding and painting crews. The bridge deck will be replaced in two phases of five to six months each. During the first phase, two Queens-bound lanes and one Bronx-bound lane will be replaced by Thanksgiving 2005. Work will cease after Thanksgiving and resume in March 2006. “There’s no place on the bridge to build an extra lane for traffic, so we’ll have to close off a lane at a time,” Pascual explained. Installation of a movable median barrier key to keeping traffic moving while the old deck is removed and replaced lane by lane, was a critical element of the preparation phase of the work.
One lane of the six-lane bridge will be closed around the clock for demolition and installation of the new deck. The temporary movable median barrier will enable the MTA to keep the remaining five lanes open during rush hour so that the peak, or most heavily traveled direction, has three lanes open while two lanes remain open in the other direction.
Three Bronx-bound traffic lanes will be open during the morning rush hour; the reverse will be the case for evening rush hour with three lanes open to Queens during that time period
“We know people won’t divert to the Triborough or the Throgs Neck Bridges entirely, but we can recommend these as alternatives, and enough people will use them to make the work feasible,” Pascual said. “We talked to the Mets about Shea Stadium traffic and decided this kind of lane closure would work. Don’t go by last year’s attendance figures.” Over the laughter that greeted his announcement he was asked if the movable median could be left on the bridge permanently to facilitate traffic flow. Pascual said he was uncertain as to whether this was possible.
A work platform under the bridge where equipment will be stored has been constructed. Temporary overhead cranes that run back and forth on tracks, similar to those used on the Triborough Bridge, will help expedite removal and installation of deck sections more quickly and efficiently than cumbersome tractor cranes.
MTA Bridge and Tunnel representatives were scheduled to meet with City Councilmember Tony Avella on May 26 to plan so that his district and constituents would be disturbed as little as possible during the work. “By and large, we don’t expect the project to have too much of an effect on traffic,” Pascual said.
The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened to traffic April 29, 1939, the day before the opening of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Nearly 1.7 billion vehicles have crossed the bridge since it opened to traffic and more than 120,000 vehicles use the bridge every day. n
LaG CC Celebrates Welfare-to-Work
Program’s 10th Year
Sociologist Dr. William Julius Wilson of Harvard University was keynote speaker at celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the La Guardia Community College welfare-to-work program. Wilson addressed program alumni on May 17 when LaG CC celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first graduating class from the College to Prepare for Employment (COPE) program, which successfully provides people on public assistance with the education and skills needed to enter the job market. The event was held in the college’s Mainstage Theatre at 47th Avenue and Van Dam Street, Long Island City.
“The reunion acknowledged the accomplishments of the over 1,000 students who have successfully graduated from COPE,” LaG CC President Gail O. Mellow said.
COPE, a collaboration between the City University of New York and the city Human Resources Administration, was part of the New York state response to the Federal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program established by the Welfare Reform Act of 1993. Since 1993, La Guardia’s COPE program has served 3,000 individuals, graduated more than 1,000 and found employment for nearly 2,000.
“The success of the college's COPE graduates confirms the conclusion of local and national studies that a college degree can have dramatic benefits on welfare recipients,” Dr. Audrey Harrigan, executive associate to the president and the college's first COPE director, said. “It enables them to find employment in the primary labor markets, to enrich their personal lives and helps them achieve financial security.”
Students entering the college’s program have a choice of any of the major degree programs, except liberal arts. Built into the academic program is an intensive support system that includes counselors, a HRA liaison, and tutors and mentors.
To help the students prepare for the challenges connected with a job search, the program offers workshops that focus on resume writing, ways to dress for success and the interviewing process. When COPE students are ready to go on their first interview, a non-profit organization supplies them with an outfit. When they secure a position, the college provides them with a MetroCard. While the students are working toward their degrees, HRA covers their transportation and childcare expenses.
“Our goal is to take our students out of the system," Ada Bedor, COPE director, said, “so we provide them with the necessary support and educational tools to help them make that difficult transition from welfare to work to self-reliance.”
In the course of the celebration, former students told how COPE enabled them tofurther their education and successfully enter the workforce. One such story is that of Zoraida Figueroa. “I wasn’t thinking about college when I took the GED,” Figueroa, who had completed only the ninth grade, said. But her score was an above-average 275, and a GED staffer suggested college and sent her to LaGuardia. “At the COPE orientation I got excited. I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this’,” she added. Figueroa graduated from LaGuardia with a 4.0 GPA and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa honor society. New York University offered her a scholarship, where she completed both bachelor's and master's degrees. Today she is a pre-K social worker in the city Department of Education with hopes to start her doctoral studies in the near future.