June 19, 2018 By Tara Law (Updated 6/19)
The MTA/LIRR will likely announce its decision on the fate of the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge next month.
Phillip Eng, who was appointed president of the LIRR in April, is expected to make an announcement at a Queens Borough Hall meeting on July 11, the MTA said. Eng will say whether the 90-year-old bridge can be repaired, must be demolished, or whether further study is necessary, according to the MTA.
“We understand the significance that the Kew Gardens Community places on the storefronts situated atop the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge and are committed to investigation options that address the concerns of all parties,” Eng said in a statement.
Eng inspected the bridge along with engineers last week, according to an MTA spokesperson. The MTA says that the section of bridge which supports the 12 storefronts across the LIRR are too deteriorated to be repaired.
The LIRR has come under fire since it announced last year that it was likely to demolish the bridge—including the storefronts located on it— because the structure was falling apart and was too expensive to rehabilitate.
Lawmakers put the blame on the MTA/LIRR for letting the bridge fall into a state of disrepair.
“The MTA has been an irresponsible landlord and is now asking the community to bear the consequences,” said Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal. “Despite years of complaints raised by our residents, nothing was done to address the hazardous disrepair at this location.”
Community members, including members of grassroots group “Save Kew Gardens,” have campaigned to restore the bridge ever since. They argue that the structure is an important part of Kew Gardens’ character and the neighborhood’s shopping area. More than 5,000 people have signed a Change.org campaign to restore the bridge.
The state legislature passed a bill earlier this month that could compel the MTA to further study the bridge if it announces plans to demolish the structure.
The bill, which passed in both the Assembly and Senate, would require the agency to conduct a study evaluating the costs and benefits of rehabilitating the bridge as an alternative to demolition. A signature from Governor Andrew Cuomo would put the requirement in motion.
“The Lefferts Boulevard Bridge is a gem of our borough and the epicenter of a thriving neighborhood,” said State Senator Leroy Comrie, who sponsored the bill in the senate and has said that the bridge must be saved.
Andrew Taranto, a spokesperson for Comrie, said that the bill would force the MTA to follow through on a study, if necessary.
“It gives the community some leverage in the event that the LIRR reneges on their promise,” said Taranto.
Council Member Karen Koslowitz has allocated $1 million for a study of the bridge, including $250,000 from both fiscal years 2017 and 2018 and $500,00 in the most recent 2019 budget, according to Koslowitz’ spokesperson Michael Cohen.
Koslowitz’ office would direct the $1 million toward repairing the bridge if the MTA/LIRR elects to rehabilitate it and no longer needs to conduct a study, Cohen said.
Legislators say that they feel encouraged that Eng is committed to finding a way to secure the bridge’s future.
Eng has been much more receptive to repairing the bridge than his predecessor, Patrick Nowakowski, according to Tim Thomas, spokesperson for Rosenthal who sponsored the legislation in Albany for the study.
“We are actually hopeful about this. We think that the new president has been responsive in a way that the previous president was not,” Thomas said.