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Astoria's Hell Gate Bridge Should Be Repainted for 100th Birthday, Pols Say

 Queens politicians are calling on Amtrak to repaint the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria.
Queens politicians are calling on Amtrak to repaint the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

ASTORIA — The Hell Gate Bridge turns 100 years old this year — and its age is showing, a group of elected officials say.

Queens politicians are calling on Amtrak to repaint the Hell Gate ahead of its centennial this September, pointing to the "unbecoming appearance" of the bridge's faded and mismatched paint.

"The bridge has not been repainted since the 1990s, and stands today covered in a patchwork of pink, beige, and brown," the officials wrote in a letter sent to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman last week.

The letter — signed by Congressman Joseph Crowley, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, State Sen. Michael Gianaris and Councilman Costa Constantinides — describes the Hell Gate as "an iconic piece of Amtrak's infrastructure."

"It is our sincerest hope that the structure will enter into the next hundred years of its life in a fashion befitting its status," it reads.

The Hell Gate was designed by architects Gustav Lindenthal and Henry Hornbostel and completed in 1916, the officials said. It was designed to last 1,000 years and is believed to have been the inspiration for Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The bridge was last painted in 1996 as part of a $55 million federally-funded makeover of the Hell Gate viaduct, according to Amtrak.

But its aesthetics garnered complaints even then, as the paint that was used for the revamp — a custom hue called "Hell Gate Red" — faded almost immediately due to a flaw in its formula, according to the New York Times.

In 2013, Astoria community leader Antonio Meloni petitioned for better lighting for the Hell Gate, which he called the "unwanted stepchild" of the city's bridges. Amtrak said at the time that adding extra lights would make it harder for its train operators to see.

In a response to the letter officials sent last week, Amtrak explained the paint is more than just for looks and actually protects the steel of the bridge from deterioration. Its "discolored" appearance has no affect on its ability to protect the structure from wear, according to an Amtrak spokesman.

"The current condition of the paint will allow it to continue providing that level of protection for some years to come," the spokesman said.