UPPER EAST SIDE — The bridge is back and so is a chunk of the East River esplanade.
East Side joggers, cyclists, dog walkers and others rejoiced Friday after Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan cut the ribbon on the $11.9 million 80-ton sleek steel East 78th Street pedestrian bridge that replaced a crumbling 150-ton concrete structure from the 1940s.
The bridge — which spans the FDR Drive, connecting Yorkville to the East River esplanade — had been closed since October 2010. Because of the construction project, originally scheduled to be completed in August 2011, the esplanade between East 76th and 79th streets had been closed, too.
"We're closing the gap between New Yorkers and the East River esplanade, creating safer access to the waterfront for generations to come,” said Sadik-Khan, calling the new structure "spectacular."
Unlike its predecessor — which was rated as one of the city's worst bridges — the new span now meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, is wide enough for bikes and walkers to fit side-by-side, and has sufficient clearance for emergency vehicles on the FDR Drive. Officials said the re-opening had been delayed due to quality control review.
"It is very exciting to have this critical link back in place," said City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who noted that residents had been calling regularly inquiring about the re-opening.
No one was more happy that Loretta Ponticello, an 89-year-old neighborhood legend who has been a huge advocate for the project.
"This is a beautiful bridge, and I love it," Ponticello said. "I watched its construction from its inception from my fifth floor window," she told a crowd of residents before taking the inaugural walk across the bridge with Sadik-Khan, Lappin, Assembly Member Micah Kellner and Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro.
"We are very happy this project is finished," said nearby resident Joanna Kerry with her West Highland terrier, Murray. "It has bridged the gap from being unhappy to being happy."
Kerry and Murray used to cross the bridge daily for their walks. "We would come here to relax, read and take in the beautiful vistas of the city," Kerry said, adding, "Murray would like to thank the city for getting his bridge back.
Jan Burns, 66, who lives across the street, had been eagerly watching the construction, bringing a beach chair to view the complicated installation in October of the replacement bridge that was delivered by barge. The span was constructed in Camden, N.J. The rest of the bridge, including the bear claw fence and the other stainless steel parts, were fabricated at Art Metal Industries in Brookfield, Conn.
"The old bridge was pretty bad," said Burns, who claimed that her German shepherd mix, Max, was the first dog to poop on the new bridge. (She cleaned it up.) "We used to see workers putting mesh up around it, so the concrete wouldn't fall."
Betty Cooper Wallerstein, the president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, called the project "one of the best collaborative efforts" she has seen in her 40 years of civic work.
"A project like this, which is on top of people's homes, had to be done in a way that would minimize intrusion," she said, commending the DOT and Parks Department for being responsive to community concerns on design and construction hours. The city even hired a community liaison to field complaints, she said.
"We have another [pedestrian] bridge coming up at 81st Street and East End," she said, offering to share the lessons of the East 78th Street bridge.