NY Mayor Michael R. BloombergNEW YORK CITY, N.Y. /New York Netwire/ — NY Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today broke ground on the restoration of the High Bridge, one of the eight regional parks being transformed under PlaNYC, the City’s long-term plan for a greener, greater New York. The $61 million rehabilitation of the High Bridge will reopen it for pedestrians and bicyclists, while providing a crucial link between Manhattan and the Bronx over the Harlem River.

By 2014, the High Bridge will be rehabilitated and reopened for pedestrians and bicyclists, providing an essential link in New York City’s expanding waterfront Greenway.

It will allow Bronx residents to reach the Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center, and Manhattan residents to reach the Harlem River waterfront. Regional parks address the need for open space for New York City’s growing population. There are currently 6.3 million New Yorkers who live within a ten-minute walk of a park or playground, an increase of 600,000 since PlaNYC was implemented in 2007. This project is an inter-agency collaboration by the Departments of Parks, Environmental Protection, Design and Construction and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Mayor was joined at the groundbreaking by First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris, Parks Commissioner Veronica M. White, Department of Design and Construction Commissioner David J. Burney, and Congressman José E. Serrano.

“In 2007, when we launched PlaNYC, our long-term sustainability plan, we committed to restoring and re-opening the High Bridge – one of our city’s great treasures,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The $61 million restoration of this this bridge, and its reopening to pedestrians and cyclists, will also open up new opportunities for communities on both sides of the river. It will bring people here from all over the five boroughs, and even all over the world, to see some of the most spectacular views in the city.”

“Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s vision, we are creating and restoring parks and open spaces throughout New York City,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Veronica M. White. “We are grateful to the entire community, including the High Bridge Coalition, for their advocacy, and are thankful to Mayor Bloomberg and Congressman Serrano for funding this project, being expertly managed by David Burney and his team at the Department of Design and Construction. We anticipate that this restored bridge will act as a catalyst for the reclamation of the Harlem River waterfront for public use.”

“Bringing the High Bridge up to modern standards while preserving its historic character is a challenging bit of civil engineering – but one that will pay dividends for generations to come,” said DDC Commissioner David J. Burney. “I thank Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner White and her team at the Parks Department, and Congressman Serrano for their dedication to improving our city’s green spaces and built environment. In giving this underused structure a new lease on life and by reopening a key link between neighborhoods, we hope the restored High Bridge will become a ‘High Line’ for upper Manhattan and the Bronx.”

“Today’s groundbreaking represents a remarkable milestone in our evolution into a greener, greater city,” said DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland. “The High Bridge was an important feat of engineering in the history of our water supply, and today demonstrates once again Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership in laying the foundation for an even brighter future for New York City. DEP is proud to have contributed financial and structural support to this landmark undertaking.”

“Though it has been a while coming, the start of this project is particularly gratifying,” said Congressman José E. Serrano, who provided more than $5 million in federal funding for the project in 2005 and 2006. “The City and neighborhood groups deserve special praise for taking the seed money that we were able to pull together more than seven years ago, and adding to it and bringing us to today’s groundbreaking. Our borough has often been symbolically disconnected from the rest of the City, and so the High Bridge will rebuild a great connection. I foresee children, cyclists, walkers, joggers and even commuters using this new pathway to Manhattan. I applaud all those involved in restoring and reopening the High Bridge for all to use.”

The High Bridge is the oldest remaining bridge in New York City. The bridge spans the Harlem River, connecting the neighborhoods of Highbridge in the Bronx and Washington Heights in Manhattan. First opened in 1848 as part of the Old Croton Aqueduct, the 1,200–foot–long, 116-foot-tall High Bridge walkway first brought fresh water to New York City from Westchester County and fueled the city’s northward expansion. It was closed to regular public use around 1970. Planned improvements will make the bridge more accessible and safe. The rehabilitation will follow historic preservation principles to restore the architectural details of this landmarked structure for public enjoyment. The project received $50 million in funding from Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. Additional allocations of $5 million from Congressman José E. Serrano and $7 million in federal transportation grants were critical to move the $61 million project forward.

The High Bridge is actually two adjoining spans: one of structural steel, and another of masonry. Both will be cleaned and repaired; the steel span will be repainted and the masonry structure will be repointed and strengthened. Architectural lighting will be installed beneath both spans. The brick paver walkway on top of the structure will be removed and reconditioned, new waterproofing and concrete will be installed, then the historic brickwork will be reinstalled. The aqueduct running beneath the structure will be repaired and stabilized. New lampposts and safety fencing will be installed and the original iron railing will be repaired. Barrier-free access ramps will be built on both sides of the bridge to allow access for the disabled. Three viewing platforms with bench seating will be installed along the length of the bridge.

The High Bridge was chosen as part of the Catalyst for Neighborhood Parks initiative, a public-private partnership combining City-funded capital improvements with the City Parks Foundation’s privately funded arts, sports, education and community-building programs. The Catalyst for Neighborhood Parks initiative is managed through Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of the NYC Parks Department and City Parks Foundation (CPF). From 2004 – 2008, Partnerships for Parks tracked an increase in user-ship at Highbridge Park by 161 percent and an increase in involved members of the community by 89 percent, due to CPF’s outreach, organizing & programming efforts. The High Bridge Coalition, a park advocacy coalition of 52 neighborhood organizations, was created by CPF, and Partnerships and the coalition administered more than 500 PlaNYC surveys to the community to help inform the restoration design and ensure community participation. Through these efforts, free SummerStage concerts and children’s programs were brought to the park to engage the surrounding community, and the coalition worked closely with Congressman Serrano to leverage and secure capital funds to restore the bridge.

Other regional parks already developed as part of PlaNYC include McCarren Pool and the first phase of Calvert Vaux Park in Brooklyn; and Rockaway Park in Queens. Regional parks currently in construction as part of PlaNYC include Fort Washington Park in Manhattan; Soundview Park in the Bronx, the Ocean Breeze Indoor Track and Field Facility on Staten Island; and Highland Park in Queens. Also, thus far as part of PlaNYC, 227 Schoolyard to Playground sites were opened to the public, 26 asphalt yards were converted to turf fields, lights were installed at 16 fields to allow for extended playing hours, 319 Greenstreets were planted, and more than 643,000 trees were planted under MillionTreesNYC.