In September 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo made the following statement about Mount Vernon’s Sixth Avenue, Tenth Avenue and 14th Avenue Bridges: “Our administration has made it a top priority to rebuild our infrastructure, and by replacing these century-old bridges [in Mount Vernon], we are taking an important step toward preserving and improving a vital part of our transportation system and providing peace of mind to the motorists who depend on it. I am proud that the State is joining with our local and federal partners to move these important projects forward.”
Since that time four years ago, the 300-foot combined length of the closed bridges show no sign of construction. Then in 2018, our current Mayor announced that the MTA would begin work on the 14th Avenue Bridge for a period intended to last ten months. That would be an estimated opening in March 2019; however, it is now half way beyond the ten-month period, and construction has still not yet begun. To make matters worse, according to the MTA construction on the Sixth Avenue bridge (closed) and the Tenth Avenue bridge (closed more than a decade) is not scheduled to begin until after the 14th Avenue bridge is done. In stark contrast, the new Mario Cuomo (New Tappan Zee) Bridge opens with fanfare, and construction on the East Third Street Bridge into Pelham is ending. But, construction has not begun on even one Mount Vernon bridge. It appears that MTA follow-through is particularly lacking in Mount Vernon.
The MTA has miserably failed us, and we can no longer sit quietly on the sidelines and wait. So that attention can be paid to our city and its needs, it is time for us to act. Neglecting the bridges has real life and death consequences for Mount Vernon. Don’t just take my word for it. Over the last few weeks, I have heard from a number of first responders who deal with this problem on a daily basis. A former deputy police commissioner stated, “The present condition of the bridges hinders the ability of emergency vehicles to respond to life-threatening or otherwise dangerous situations in a timely manner that could be the difference between life and death. I personally find it heart-breaking that the MTA has not addressed the needs of Mount Vernon. It only leads to more questions as to why the most diverse community in one of the richest counties in the country has been ignored for so long?” An EMS professional in Mount Vernon echoed much the same concern telling me “the bridge closures create a problem with appropriate care due to delays in accessing the patient and getting them definitive care. Help us help the citizens of Mount Vernon because a delay in construction now means life or death!”
The most infuriating aspect of this entire issue is the sheer simplicity of the problem we are trying to solve. I’ve been in the construction business for more than three decades. I know for a fact that replacing five 100-foot bridges is not a difficult task by any stretch of the imagination. By doing nothing, the MTA is broadcasting to the world that disrupting the lives of Mount Vernon’s residents or preventing great harm to them is not worth the very minimal amount of work required to complete these projects. But, you can bet that if one of those bridges collapsed on the Metro North tracks and delayed the commute for our neighbors for even a single day, there would be a lightning fast response. This disparity is unacceptable, unjust and is a smack in the face to Mount Vernon residents.It is clear that waiting is a luxury we can no longer afford. I will immediately begin at the City Council level and move to our representatives at every level of government to hold the MTA accountable. It is time we start producing tangible results in the form of immediate bridge repair. We’re going to move concurrently on the following three fronts:
ENGAGEMENT: We shall begin conversations with our representatives in White Plains, Albany and Washington who secured funds, and to whom the MTA made promises about repairing our bridges. We shall outline the failure of the MTA and the degree with which they have delayed work in Mount Vernon as compared to other communities. We shall request a review of MTA’s actions with respect to Mount Vernon bridges. Additionally, the MTA must provide a schedule for the work to begin immediately and to proceed without delay. Failing that, we shall request that other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers or the federal and state departments of transportation, get involved and do the job the MTA is unwilling to do.
INVESTIGATION: I will urge the other members of the Mount Vernon City Council to hold hearings, issue subpoenas, and get to the bottom of how our bridges have ended up in such deplorable states. We shall elicit responses from both the Mayor and the MTA. We shall probe agreements, side deals, and the whereabouts of funding secured four years ago. We shall delve into MTA’s delayed tactics and dismantle any idea that further delays will be tolerated. We shall explore why some of these bridges must be closed now, when the construction is not slated to begin for another two years. We shall not spare the decision makers in this scheme. We shall challenge the assumptions that too many people have about our city and its value relative to the surrounding area.
LITIGATION: If we do not see immediate and concrete progress then we shall promptly seek relief from the courts. The MTA has a contractual and a legal obligation to maintain and replace Mount Vernon’s bridges. If by inaction, the MTA refuses to honor their legal obligation then we shall ask the courts to find them in breach and levy a penalty to be paid to Mount Vernon for every single day they delay bridge construction. By their failure, the MTA daily exposes the City of Mount Vernon to costly liability and litigation if an injury or damage occurs. This is an expense that Mount Vernon’s taxpayers can ill afford. The City Council will seek to protect its taxpayers.
My message to the MTA is simple: No more excuses! No more empty promises! Get it done! Now!
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at ADWCMV@gmail.com.