SOMERS, N.Y. – Citing public safety concerns, Somers officials are asking New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to replace the Plum Brook Bridge.
The vote was taken last week after a lengthy meeting with residents.
The span was built in 1904 on watershed land belonging to New York City. It linked routes 100 and 138, carrying traffic over the Plum Brook River, an arm of the Muscoot Reservoir, until 1998 when the DEP closed it due to unsafe conditions.
Plans to replace the steel structure in subsequent years were backed by local law enforcement, fire officials, and other first responders, who cited concerns about access to St. Joseph’s R.C. Church, which opened in 2013, and John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, both located near the intersection of Plum Brook Road and Route 138.
Arguments were also made to re-establish a link to I-684, an interstate highway, and to the train station in Goldens Bridge.
But a public outcry over safety, traffic, and noise concerns thwarted forward movement.
Opposition was especially intense then, and remains so now, among residents of Plum Brook Road, Sunderland Lane, and Otha Drive.
Last week, the Somers Town Board sought local input by inviting folks to speak during the public comment section of a discussion on the bridge’s future. Close to 20 residents obliged.
Town Supervisor Rick Morrissey told the crowd on Thursday, July 11, that he was asking the board to pass a resolution urging the city to replace the span.
All the vote would do, he said, was “put the wheels in motion at the DEP level. It could be years before that bridge gets demolished and rebuilt.”
Two other bridges in the city’s bailiwick—in Katonah and Goldens Bridge—could be similarly reconstructed, so “this is the last chance for the town to get anything done with that Plum Brook Bridge which…is a major artery and a public-safety concern,” Morrissey said.
The project—which Morrissey estimated could cost $15 million—would be entirely the city’s “responsibility,” and “won’t cost the town anything.”
Anthony Falcone, a Somers resident and licensed civil engineer, favors reopening the bridge. The detour added about 3.5 miles and seven to eight minutes to the average commute, he said.
Route 138 remains the only way to get to the church and high school, and if a tree or wire falls across the road, it could “double” the response time in an emergency, he added.
Falcone acknowledged the concerns of Plum Brook Road residents. Over the last 20 years, he said, they have become accustomed to “the rural and very quiet nature of this road.” But, Falcone said, he was trying to be “practical” and thought “the reasonable needs of the many should outweigh those of a few.”
Plum Brook Road resident Beth Berman disagreed, citing speeding concerns. When the bridge first opened, she said, there were “cars that drove through my fence, and almost into my living room, four to five times.”
The sharp curves on the road west of Route 100 make it a hazard, so it’s not just a quality of life issue but also a safety issue, she said.
Bill Keane, who lives on Fairview Drive, said the extra commute adds up to more than just a minute or two over time. “I did a rough calculation,” he said, estimating that over a year’s time “it’s a day of my life in commuting.”
Steven Kalayjian of Sunderland Lane, who has lobbied for traffic controls like speed bumps, told the board he won’t let his children walk on the road because of speeders.
He said he was “dazed” to learn that the bridge might be reopened.
“Safety is most important,” Kalayjian said. “A life cannot be brought back based upon saving three, four, five minutes of time. To me that is a travesty.”
Neighbor Steven Schubert agreed, saying there are a “lot of young children on that road.”
Several others said they were also against reopening the bridge.
SUPERVISOR WEIGHS IN
“Part of my interest in exploring the reopening of this bridge is public safety,” Morrissey said. He referred to letters written in 2016 by Capt. Douglas Larkin of the state police, Fire Commissioner John J. Markiewicz, and Somers Police Chief Michael Driscoll, who all backed reopening the bridge. The Rev. Mark G. Vaillancourt, president of JFK Catholic High School, did as well. Worries focused on being able to get emergency services to the church and the high school, Morrissey said.
The supervisor thanked the public for its input, saying, “This is what local government’s all about. I appreciate you all coming out tonight and giving us your opinions. We need to hear this.”
Passing the resolution doesn’t mean that the bridge project will go forward immediately, he said.
There will be “ample time” for discussion, the supervisor promised, adding that board members believe it’s in “the best interest of the town to at least explore this. It’s not every day you’re going to get a $15 million bridge bought and paid for by New York City.”
Reconvening after a five-minute executive session, the board voted to ask the DEP to begin the process of tearing down and rebuilding the bridge.
Board colleagues agreed that the issue has broader implications, the most important of which is public safety, and that some kind of remedial roadwork needs to take place as well.
Morrissey said that he’d been pursuing the matter for a “number of years” and that one of the responses from the DEP had been that it didn’t “have the money.”
“But who has the money?” Morrissey asked.
Finally, he said, a top DEP official got back to the town and acknowledged that it had “the responsibility” to maintain or replace the span.
Town Attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr. advised the town to get it in writing that the DEP will rebuild the bridge.
The resolution, reframed to reflect that, passed unanimously.