A long-promised pedestrian bridge over the Major Deegan Expressway to connect the two sides of Van Cortlandt Park was quietly canceled earlier this year, according to community groups.
The sprawling Bronx park was threaded by the Henry Hudson and Mosholu parkways in the 1930s, but the construction of the Major Deegan Expressway in 1956 permanently sliced it in half.
Since 1999, community groups have pushed for a pedestrian bridge over the expressway near Exit 13 on the northbound Major Deegan, right in the heart of the park. The connection would create a faster and safer way for residents of Norwood, Woodlawn and other neighborhoods east of Van Cortlandt to get to the swimming pool, playing fields and museum on the park’s west side.
But after years of stops and starts, parks department officials in recent months told local Bronx groups the bridge project was officially dead.
That’s bad news for social worker Eddie Travieso, who said he can’t bike directly from his home on the west side of Van Cortlandt Park to the Woodlawn subway station on the park's eastern side.
It’s a distance of less than 2 miles as the crow flies, but the lack of a bridge across the Major Deegan requires him to bike miles out of the way through Yonkers.
“I have no way to get to Woodlawn other than going the long way,” Travieso said. “So if they could bridge that gap – amazing.”
There are pedestrian crossings beneath the expressway, but none that connect the center of the park.
In 2015, city and state representatives allocated $12 million to build the bridge. But delays piled on, and its budget had increased to $23 million by 2020 — when the pandemic froze the plan.
Parks officials said the bridge’s price tag is now $38 million — money the city doesn’t have as Mayor Eric Adams has ordered budget cuts for most city agencies, including the parks department.
“The effects of the pandemic on construction projects cannot be understated,” said Dan Kastanis, a spokesperson for the parks department. “They have been felt across the board in every sector, and severely impacted the prior pedestrian bridge project.”
During a Bronx Community Board 12 meeting on Tuesday, parks department representatives presented an alternate plan that would upgrade the crosswalks on the existing Jerome Avenue Bridge along the expressway. The plan would give pedestrians an easier connection over the Major Deegan to the park’s Old Croton Aqueduct trail.
But some residents scoffed at the idea and said it would still require a nearly milelong detour that will force people to walk across the East 233rd Street highway off-ramp.
“How do you propose a person, a family with children, or someone who's up in age to be able to maneuver this?” said local resident Geraldine McCleave.
“It seems like the emphasis on this route has changed from being a practical one about connecting our neighborhoods and is now more like a nature walk because it feels long and impractical to me,” said Gayle Snible, another local.
Parks department representative Ellen Macnow acknowledged during the meeting that the alternate route is longer, but said “we're hoping to make it a very pleasant walk with some improvements.”
“It is less expensive. It is less damaging to the trees in the forest. And so we are trying to balance out what is the best way forward here,” she added.
As for the millions of dollars that have already been allocated for the bridge, the parks department said it is “supportive” of committing the money to improving Van Cortlandt Park and its surrounding communities.
Kim Furletti, president of Bronx civic organization Women of Woodlawn, said the pedestrian bridge's cancellation was “so disheartening” after years of planning and fundraising. She questioned why the bridge's budget ballooned so much, and whether the city would truly dedicate the remaining funds to Bronx parks.
“Why haven't we received answers on why this cost so much to begin with?” Furletti said, calling the changes a “bait and switch” of taxpayer money.
“What's been done with any existing allocation of funds? Where are they sitting? Who's approving what?” she continued.