(Mariana Dominguez contributed to this story)
The Suffolk County Department of Public Works is seeking to replace the existing Smith Point Bridge with a new, high-level fixed bridge built along an alignment slightly to the west of the existing bridge. The over $100 million project is being funded in part with money from the Federal Highway Administration. The remaining 10 percent falls on the county, which is currently pursuing additional funding options. After the completion of the new bridge, the existing bridge would be removed. The project is expected to break ground in spring of 2024, with completion by the end of 2026.
According to Legis. Jim Mazzarella, the project has seen some delays due to the addition of the multi-use bike/pedestrian lane. Despite some local concerns with the multi-use path, he said that it was deemed safe by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. He also said that he recently visited the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge in Washington, where they have a similar path.
“It looked amazing, and there were people walking, biking, and women pushing strollers. They all seemed to share,” he said of the lane. “I am very excited about having a new bridge with a multi-use path, a fishing pier, and a recreational area on the park side.”
However, according to the Mastic Park Civic Association, the project includes no benefit to the community most affected by it. In 2016, when the project was first proposed, the organization requested preservation of the current bridge for landings on the North and South Shore. Since June, the Mastic Park Civic Association has obtained over 1,200 local signatures in a Twin Decks Legacy Project at Smith Point petition, to include highline decks as a public space. The project, according to civic vice president Joe May, would potentially save the county over a million dollars by shortening the bridge ends.
The concept of the civic’s project, he said, is to preserve the sections of the demolished bridge on the Shirley and Fire Island sides of the bay by retrofitting the original bridge’s edges. Each side of the bridge, he explained, would be renovated as a promenade-style, similar to the New York City High Line, with 7,000-square-foot decks.
“The county’s interest in protecting its revenue-generating investment in the park is understandable, and no one seriously questions the need for replacement of the bridge,” May said of the project; rather, he only wanted his input to be heard.
However, according to May, despite limited Zoom meetings and numerous letters sent on behalf of the Twin Decks’ idea, it didn’t seem to be considered.
“The public input has been sparse,” May said, requesting that an actual in-person public meeting is held, as opposed to on Zoom. “Unfortunately, the project includes no benefit to the community most affected by the project.”
The project, according to Mazzarella, includes a fishing pier, which will be located underneath a part of the bridge as a new structure with an area for viewing as well. The DPW, he added, did officially deny the civic’s high line request with a letter issued directly to May as of August.
The official reasoning included: the existing bridge required retrofitting to meet current standards with ADA compliancy; it would add an additional $1.5 million in rehabilitation costs to the already large price tag; it would no longer be eligible for NYSDOT inspection after it is no longer used as a bridge; and the pricy upkeep would become the responsibility of the county. Additionally, the areas of the old bridge are to be used for wetland mitigation, as per the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation permit, and the new bridge will create a new shadow affecting marine life, which will require the old bridge to be demolished to remove the former shadow.
The plans for the bridge include a bike/pedestrian path, as well as a fishing pier for the community. Along the path, there will be historical kiosks for people to stop and read, with several viewing areas. The bridge will also end farther west than the original bridge, allowing for a recreational space with the potential for volleyball and, maybe, basketball courts, Mazzarella said.
“These activities and amenities are for the entire community to enjoy,” Mazzarella said, adding that the project will affect the entire county.
“The bridge was opened in 1959 and had been in continuous use for more than 30 years. It should go without saying that it has more than surpassed its service life,” said Mazzarella. “It is exciting that the new bridge will incorporate a multi-use path allowing walkers, joggers, and cyclists to traverse and exercise while enjoying the view. The bridge also includes a fishing pier attached to the underside, providing shelter while fishing. The new Smith Point Bridge will serve as an amenity for residents, and it is about time!”
Beth Wahl, Chamber of Commerce of the Mastics and Shirley president, said she was excited for the new bridge and wished construction had started already. She also said she was content with the bike/pedestrian path and fishing pier.
“It is going to make things a lot easier,” she said, referencing that the new bridge will no longer require to open for boats, which will eliminate and relieve traffic buildup.
The fishing pier will be a low-level pier directly accessible from points around the north shore of the bridge. The pier would extend about 300 feet out into the bay, be ADA accessible, and be a shaded area.
Concerns over the lack of a physical barrier for the bike/pedestrian path started last summer. Resident and former Mastic Beach mayor Maura Spery said she wanted to see more kids down by the water enjoying nature; however, she was worried that some aspects of the new bridge to Smith Point won’t allow for that. However, according to Spery, those issues were resolved as of the last meeting. The county, she said, has agreed to separate the pedestrian/bike lane with 12 feet of shared space. The issue, she added, remains with bikes and pedestrians sharing a space when the bikes begin to pick up speed on the way down. She also added that while she felt May had the community in mind and at heart with his proposal, the residents of the northern end would reject the platform.
“It was my understanding from the meeting and from the public that showed up that the people on the north side of the bridge are not in favor of that project,” she said.
Information about the project can be found on the county DPW’s Facebook page. Additionally, informational meetings will be planned as construction approaches; however, dates have not yet been released.