Dozens of people from all over The Bronx and the city came out today for a sneak peak tour of the new Randall’s Island Connector which will connect our borough to the 432 island park. Once the connector is completed by Summer 2015 it will provide Bronx residents with walking access onto the island which currently is only accessible from the Bronx by car via the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (Triboro Bridge) or via Manhattan through East Harlem. This, of course, is ironic considering that The Bronx is closer to the island and only separated by 30 feet at the narrowest point by the Bronx Kill — during low-tide you can walk from The Bronx to Randall’s Island.
The connector is something which the community has been battling to get constructed for well over 20 years but due to lack of funding and interest from City Hall for so long as well as dealing with not just one but multiple agencies which the connector runs through, the process has been a lengthy one.
The tour was part of the New York Restoration Project’s ‘The Haven Project’ in which numerous organizations and residents came together collaborate on community improvements. According to their latest progress report the project is described as:
What Is The Haven Project?
The Haven Project is a collaboration between the citizens of the Mott Haven/Port Morris Neighborhoods and a multi-disciplinary team of community leaders, academic researchers and urban designers lead by the New York Restoration Project (NYRP).
The Haven Project will be different. This is not a “pie-in-the-sky” masterplan for Mott Haven. The project will be specific in its implementation and pointed in its purpose. Goals will be attainable and will help cultivate larger changes in the physical and social fabric of the neighborhood.
The project will implement strategic community improvement projects that will better connect pedestrians and bikers of the South Bronx with their long neglected waterfront and to the soon to be completed Randall’s Island Connector, giving the community access to a world class recreational facility.
Community led design strategies will be directed at improving the health and well being of the neighborhoods. The Haven Project will identify and analyze metrics to determine design objectives that will be most impactful in creating and improving necessary connections and in advancing health outcomes.
Already the ground has been paved (just the first pavement, an final layer of pavement will be added to the connector) and landscaping has been done along the quarter-mile stretch adding plants, bushes and reeds with more to come.
The actual frame of the bridge going over the Bronx Kill and into Randall’s Island has been installed but yet to be complete. According to Kate Van Tassel of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and a construction worker, the costliest part and most time consuming part of the project will be the the safety gate to protect pedestrians from the CSX train which runs once a day into the New York Post facility once a day.
The gate will automatically close off the path onto the bridge when a train is approaching and keep pedestrians safely away from the train. Once the train moves away the gates will automatically open and allow for the flow of residents, whether on foot, bicycle, rollerblades or however they choose to get to Randall’s Island.
Besides local residents, in attendance for the tour were Rafael Barbosa, one of the owners of Port Morris Distillery, Andreas Handrinos, Tasting Room Manager of The Bronx Brewery, Stephen J. Strich III, Executive director along with Blanca Ramirez, Social Services Coordinator of Mercy Center, Robin Urquhart, founder and director of New York City Montessori School in Mott Haven, Amanda Parsons, MD, MBA, Vice President Community & Population Health at Montefiore, and the area’s newest residents, Kelly Richardson, Vice President of Program Operations at Per Scholas (who has a new UDC center with Doran Jones near the connector on 138th Street).
All these diverse business owners and organizations are excited about the new access that the area will gain once the connector is completed as well as the potential for the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan becoming reality now that the Department of Environmental Conservation has given the plan priority status and #8 in line among all plans being considered.
“My business is right across from Randall’s Island but there’s no way for me to get there unless I go over the Triboro (RFK Bridge)”, said Rafael Barbosa, owner of Port Morris Distillery. He added that, “My daughters have basically been lifelong residents of Randall’s Island, playing soccer there since they were 4 and 5 years old. It’s also a great opportunity for our business to be able to tap into all the people who will potentially come over from Randall’s Island and into The Bronx and vice-versa. Hopefully with this movement the government will see that there is a so much great interest in waterfront access by the residents that FreshDirect wouldn’t be allowed to locate here because we have a lot of people that want to be down there on that land and use it as open space.”
Once completed, the Randall’s Island Connector will only demonstrate further that the residents and businesses of Port Morris and Mott Haven not only deserve the waterfront which they have planned but that it should come off the drawing board and turn into a reality.
Edwin Torres, a Visual Journalist and local resident in the Melrose area of The Bronx, who also partook of the tour said, “It was great to see a behind the scenes look at the Randall’s Island Connector. I never imagined having bridge connecting the Bronx to Randall’s island. This will directly provide Bronx residents with easy access to the summer games and reputable concerts on Randall’s Island. It is an ideal gateway to quick summer retreats and picnics. “
It was very clear that everyone on the tour was excited about the connector finally nearing completion. Walking through the landscaped connector and seeing the how beautiful it already looks without even being complete gave me great pride and joy and it was easy to envision the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront alive with thousands of residents and Bronxites enjoying what all the 4 other boroughs of this great metropolis take for granted.
Randall’s Island Connector, highlighted in red, is a 1/4 mile strip under the Amtrak Railroad lines and begins at 132nd Street.
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