A long-buried Bronx waterway is one step closer to seeing daylight.
Mayor Eric Adams announced on Wednesday that the city is buying the land it needs to bring the subterranean Tibbetts Brook above ground. The land purchase was the last major roadblock for the $133 million project, which will reduce flooding, protect the Harlem River from raw sewage and create a much-needed greenway in the Bronx. City officials said the project, known as Daylighting Tibbetts Brook, will break ground in 2025.
The city will pay more than $11 million to freight rail company CSX Transportation for the strip of abandoned railroad tracks where the “daylighted” waterway will flow, the announcement stated. The project had stalled for years while the two parties went back and forth about the cost of the property.
“After years of trying, I’m proud that this administration was able to reach this milestone and can proceed with rerouting Tibbetts Brook above ground,” Adams said in a written statement. “Not only will this create more green spaces to enjoy, but it will remove millions of gallons of water from our sewer system, lessening potential flooding on rainy days.”
Tibbetts Brook, called Mosholu by the Lenape people, once flowed freely through the Bronx and emptied into the Harlem River. Over the centuries, sections of the waterway were dammed, buried underground and rerouted through the sewer system. The buried brook funnels excess rainwater into the area’s combined sewers, exacerbating flooding and forcing raw sewage out into the Harlem River.
Local environmental groups said they have spent more than two decades fighting for the waterway to be redirected away from the sewers and brought back above ground. The rerouted brook would carry rainwater directly to the Harlem River without the unwelcome sewage incursion. The switch would also keep hundreds of millions of gallons of rainwater out of the sewers each year, city officials estimate, taking pressure off the nearby Wards Island Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility and reducing the odds of excess sewage backing up into the river. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection officially adopted the plan in 2020 as part of its ongoing efforts to depollute the Harlem River.
Local advocates have also called for the city to build a park along the newly daylighted brook’s banks, connecting to the Putnam Greenway and Van Cortlandt Park. Plans by the city’s parks and environmental protection departments show paths where residents could walk, run and cycle, flanked by pocket wetlands and views of the waterway.
But the project has long been held up by unsuccessful negotiations with CSX Transportation, a Florida-based freight rail company that owns the long, narrow stretch of land along the Major Deegan Expressway where the brook will be located. The city originally offered $2 million for the property, but CSX wanted as much $13 million. Ten-plus years, a failed appraisal attempt and several public scoldings later, city officials finally shared that they were able to make a deal with CSX last November, the Riverdale Press reported. The company would fork over the land for a cool $11.2 million.
Christina Taylor, deputy director for environmental advocacy group the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, was cautiously thrilled by this week’s public announcement.
“It was honestly one of those things where I was like, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” she said. “So when it actually did happen, it was a fantastic thing to see.”