When plans were announced by the de Blasio administration for a light rail system running from Astoria to Red Hook, many of us Greenpointers wondered about an important, but perhaps overlooked detail: How do you get your trolley line over Newtown Creek?
For years, Newtown Creek isolated Greenpoint from Queens. It wasn’t until 1855 that Neziah Bliss built a bridge that linked the two areas, but that was when the area around the bridge consisted of farmland. A bridge today would have many more hurdles to clear.
The creek may not seem like a very wide body of water. Its width varies between 125 and 250 feet, but a bridge for the new tram presents a lot of problems, and bridging the creek isn’t as easy as it seems.
Some say that the city can use an existing bridge. Current proposals paint a picture of the street car running over the Pulaski Bridge, which leaves Greenpoint at McGuinness Boulevard and arrives on 11th Street in Long Island City. However, the city has barely wrapped up a grueling battle to install bike lanes on the bridge, which would be wiped out by the new light rail line. Would they have to wipe out the newly created bike lanes or take the tram onto the packed and dangerous vehicular roadway? Even Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen acknowledged that using the Pulaski just might not be feasible.
Until 1954, there was the Vernon Avenue Bridge, which linked Manhattan Avenue with Vernon Boulevard in Queens. The city could build a bridge there, but building it also presents a number of problems. This would require a structure that passes over the wide Long Island Railroad yard in Hunters Point and then across the creek to Box Street, thus necessitating a tricky sharp right turn onto Commercial Street. Another possible site would be at the mouth of the Creek near West Street, but this entails the expensive proposition of building a bridge at its widest point, as well as having to alter other development plans for the highly coveted area to create approaches to the bridge.
The city is left with two options, which present serious engineering and logistical obstacles, not to mention a huge price tag. Mitch Waxman, the creek maven of the Newtown Creek Alliance, has serious reservations about the construction cost, project timeframe and ridership figures the city claims, as do a host of others.
It just might be that the creek will sink the new trolley, but at any rate, Newtown Creek is a small body of water that creates many major light rail problems.