By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Vice President Joe Biden joined local politicians beneath the Brooklyn Bridge’s peeling steel supports Wednesday afternoon to announce the start of four years of repairs to the bridge.
“This bridge is an emblem of what this great country represents,” Biden told a crowd of construction workers and reporters. “To be here restoring this iconic bridge is a pretty neat thing.”
The federal stimulus bill contributed $30 million to the $508 million project, which will repaint the bridge, widen the approach ramps and retrofit the steel supports. The city and other federal sources put up the rest of the funding.
The city is just starting the work now and will do most of it on nights and weekends, frequently closing the bridge to Manhattan-bound traffic. Pedestrians, cyclists and Brooklyn-bound drivers will not be affected.
As Biden stood alongside Mayor Mike Bloomberg, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and other local officials on the Manhattan side of the bridge Wednesday, the vice president evoked the 127-year-old span as a symbol of perseverance.
Just as the Roebling family faced widespread doubt when they started building the longest suspension bridge in the world in 1870, skeptics now question whether the Obama Administration will be able to restore the economy, Biden said.
“Just like the Roeblings, I think we’re proving the critics wrong,” Biden said.
The $30 million in federal stimulus funds for the Brooklyn Bridge will pay for 150 jobs, and the funds also free up precious New York City capital money for other projects, Biden said.
Biden appeared in good spirits, joking with construction workers, signing their hardhats and even borrowing one of their cell phones to make a call. When Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz presented Biden with a small model of the landmark bridge, Biden grinned and said he’d always wanted one.
Biden and the other politicians spoke from a sunny platform at Dover and Water Streets. Mid-speech and apparently spontaneously, the vice president looked longingly over at the air-conditioned Bridge Café on the corner.
“We should be doing this inside the Bridge Café,” Biden joked, then mentioned the restaurant again later in his speech.
Adam Weprin, whose family owns the Bridge Café, the oldest tavern in New York, said his jaw dropped when he heard the vice president mention his business.
“I was completely blown away by it,” Weprin said afterward, shaking his head.
The vice president’s plug more than made up for the lost business because of the street closures and extra security Wednesday, Weprin said.