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Astoria Group Wants to Light Up Hell Gate Bridge

By Jeanmarie Evelly | December 25, 2013 11:13am
 The Hell Gate Bridge, as seen from Astoria Park.
The Hell Gate Bridge, as seen from Astoria Park.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

QUEENS — A community group in Astoria wants to show a local landmark some love — by lighting it up.

The New York Anti-Crime Agency, a nonprofit that runs safety seminars and neighborhood graffiti cleanups, is pushing to get lights added to the Hell Gate Bridge, saying the unlit structure has gone for years without the recognition it deserves.

"It was not given its due," said Antonio Meloni, the group's director and a local civic leader, who called the Hell Gate the "unwanted stepchild" of the city's bridges.

The bridge, operated by Amtrak, connects Queens to the Bronx by way of Randall's Island and is a looming sight along the Astoria waterfront, hulking over Astoria Park.

Meloni's group has been maintaining the bridge's base columns from Shore Boulevard to Steinway Street since the early 1990s, he said, removing graffiti and painting murals.

"We sort of felt a kinship to the bridge," he said.

But he's long been bothered by the fact that at night, the Hell Gate is only lit by a few sparse lights along its bottom, its only main source of brighter light coming from the adjacent, well-lit RFK-Triborough Bridge.

"In the mist, you really can't see the Hell Gate at all," he said. "We want to do something to remedy that."

Meloni says lights are both a safety issue, marking the bridge more clearly for airplanes and helicopters, but also a way to highlight the span as a local landmark with historical significance.

Designed by noted civil engineer Gustav Lindenthal, the Hell Gate opened in 1916 and was reportedly the inspiration behind the similarly-designed Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.

Meloni says the only aesthetic upgrade that he's aware of being done at the bridge in recent years was when it was re-painted in 1991, thanks to federal transportation funding that was allocated by the late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan.

Meloni is hoping his appeal will interest current federal representatives who can take on the project, and suggests opening it up to the community to see what kind of lights people think would look best along the Hell Gate.

"I'm hoping that this will be a way for it to take its rightful place in the skyline of New York, because it is an iconic structure," he said.

In an e-mail, a spokesman for Amtrak said the towers of the bridge are currently equipped with red lights to warn aircraft and others along the bottom to help guide marine traffic. Adding additional lights could pose a safety threat, he said.

"Installation of additional or enhanced lighting on the bridge itself would become a safety hazard for our Engineers by reducing their existing line of vision," the spokesman wrote.