HIGH BRIDGE — The recent reopening of New York City's oldest standing bridge has reignited hope among Bronx park advocates that the borough's blighted waterfront could be transformed into a green space.
The High Bridge, which connects Washington Heights in Manhattan to High Bridge in The Bronx, reopened to the public on Tuesday as the only interborough bridge in New York City exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists after being closed for more than 40 years.
The Bronx side of the bridge currently opens up into a small park with benches and tables that runs alongside University Avenue.
"I look for a future vision where there’s a continuous path from the High Bridge to the waterfront park that leads down to the southern tip of The Bronx peninsula," he said.
The Parks Department has acquired the mile of land along the waterfront between the High Bridge and the Washington Bridge, according to agency spokesman Mario López.
The agency has been using the land as a staging area for construction on the High Bridge, but this will change going forward, Lopez said.
"We’re looking forward to developing this land as public waterfront in the coming years and hope for funds to become available soon," he said in an email.
The parks department does not have an estimated timeline or total cost for developing that portion of the waterfront yet, but it does have about $500,000 on reserve for the effort, according to Bronx Capital Project Team Leader Andrew Penzi.
The agency is also working on restoring the staircase leading down to Sedgwick Avenue from the park off of the High Bridge. Staffers are interested in connecting it with the waterfront, but the layout could make doing so tricky, Penzi said.
"There are some complications just because it’s kind of a bottleneck getting through that area," he said.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the organization was aware that people hope to build a park along the site and was willing to consider the idea.
"We would be open to receiving specific plans illustrating a possible greenway, provided we could be given a guarantee that the construction or existence of the greenway would not create any safety concerns or impact train operations," he said in an email.
However, Metro-North, which has a $14 billion deficit in its capital program, would not be able to help pay for the pathway.
High Bridge resident and activist Chauncy Young maintained that linking the area to the Bronx waterfront would help the structure fulfill its purpose of connecting people to places they have been cut off from.
"In much of The Bronx, the community is really isolated from the waterfront," he said, "and you can see in Mill Pond Park, in Roberto Clemente State Park, that people love to come and be along the waterfront, even if they’re not able to get into the water."
Mychal Johnson, a longtime South Bronx environmental advocate, agreed that access to the waterfront would be a great amenity for the borough and hoped that reopening the High Bridge would help light a fire under supporters of the project.
"It's such a need for a community that has such high rates of obesity and diabetes to create recreational opportunities along our waterfront, which is a natural resource," he said. "It's just a no-brainer."
"Where there's a will, there's a way," he continued. "I think there should be a great deal of will."