SOMERS, N.Y. - Calling a new structure essential, three public-safety agencies are calling for rebuilding the bridge over Plum Brook River.

In separate written statements, Somers police and fire officials as well as the local state police commander insist that a new bridge is “imperative.” They were joined by the principal of Kennedy Catholic High School in supporting the town’s quest for state money to help build a replacement river crossing, something that has not existed there for almost two decades.

Meeting last Thursday night, the Town Board unanimously backed a formal request for $5 million in state funding. Supervisor Rick Morrissey told the meeting that Somers would formally enter a new Albany initiative called Bridge NY. A $200 million funding source, it encourages municipalities statewide to compete for grants of up to $5 million each to upgrade their bridges and culverts.

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In its grant application, sent to the state last Friday, the town said: “The bridge is located approximately two miles south of the Somers historic business district and with the town’s growing population, it is apparent that the artery from Route 100 to I-684 must be re-established to ease traffic congestion.”

Safety officials agree. Somers’ police and fire departments as well as the state police have urged the construction of a new Plum Brook Bridge, once again allowing traffic to travel Plum Brook Road from Route 100 to Route 138.

In his letter supporting the town’s bid, Fire Commissioner John J. Markiewicz, who chairs the town’s fire district board, said that closing the bridge has caused “delays of many vital minutes” in answering emergency calls at Kennedy Catholic and St. Joseph’s Church as well as responding to requests for assistance from Goldens Bridge firefighters.

State Police Capt. Douglas Larkin, whose command includes the Somers barracks on Route 100, said a reopened bridge would enhance public safety in the area and relieve some of the growing traffic congestion in downtown Somers.

Somers Police Chief Michael Driscoll also cited traffic congestion and longer response times. He added that lack of a bridge forces all of St. Joseph’s Sunday traffic onto Route 138, requiring a police presence to manage the competing flows.

All three safety officials, in similar language, advised the state that it was “imperative that the bridge be reconstructed and opened to through traffic, which would alleviate...public safety concerns and prevent the two-mile detour which currently exists.”

Joining the safety officials in urging the bridge’s rebuilding, the Rev. Mark G. Vaillancourt, principal of Kennedy Catholic on Route 138, said that in an emergency, first responders currently face needless delays. “The reconstruction of the Plum Brook Bridge will reinstate a major artery serving Kennedy High School as well as the Somers community,” he wrote.

But the grant is no sure thing, Morrissey cautioned, and neither is a new bridge.

“Even if we’re lucky enough to get the grant,” he told the board, “that’s still no guarantee that this [rebuilding] will happen.”

The grants provide a maximum of $5 million each while the projected cost of a new Plum Brook Bridge runs to about $8 million, Morrissey said. Somers would seek to close that gap, he said, with cash from elsewhere. In its grant application, the town said it would seek additional funding for the bridge’s construction from New York City; the New York State Community Development Block Grant program; and a bond for a portion of the cost.

Homeowners in the Lakeview Drive/Plum Brook Road area, however, may not welcome a reconstruction. Many opposed the original plans for a new bridge, depicting it as simply a shortcut through their quiet, residential neighborhood. While traffic from Route 100 might save time, they complained, it would also bring with it unwanted noise and speeding vehicles.

Any new bridge building will be subject to a public hearing, Morrissey noted.

When New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the bridge’s owner, originally proposed building a new span, its representatives ran into stiff local resistance and scrapped that notion.

“They got shouted out of town,” a Somers official observed, “by the residents that didn’t want it.”

The original bridge, built in 1904 on New York City watershed land, carried traffic over the Plum Brook River, an arm of the Muscoot Reservoir, until 1998. That’s when concerns over deteriorating bridge conditions led the DEP to shut it down.

At that time, Plum Brook was among 11 Westchester County bridges maintained by New York City. The city’s maintenance responsibility dated back to the period from 1870 to 1911 when the new Croton Water Supply System was being developed.

So, when the city announced the bridge’s closing in 1998, it also laid out plans to erect a new $2.4 million structure in its place, with construction due to get under way in 1999. Instead, intense local opposition and other delays pushed the project’s proposed start into the next millennium.

In 2007, Morrissey said, when DEP officials met with the Planning Board to discuss building the new bridge “they heard from the public, specifically the neighboring communities.” The city’s representatives “got an earful about [residents] not even wanting the bridge to be open, and subsequently the DEP went away,” Morrissey said.

“So, that’s the way it remains,” he said. “Their plan is to take down the bridge [next year]—and that will happen.”

Other Board Votes

In other action, the Town Board:

  • Hired Belinda DiTieri of Granite Springs as the supervisor’s $60,000-a-year confidential secretary, succeeding Barbara Sherry, who retired in June;
  • Tapped the town’s recreation fees to provide a $100,000 contribution for the Reynolds House rebuilding at Angle Fly Preserve;
  • Gave permission to the town’s Energy Environment Committee to request proposals from solar-panel manufacturers to become the exclusive supplier in Phase Two of an effort to promote solar energy in Somers.