Esplanade repairs face delays

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Waterfront project in Carl Schurz Park will now last until “next winter” and require construction of a temporary bridge


  • Access to a two-block portion of the East River Esplanade near Gracie Mansion is blocked due to repair work on a collapsed portion of the waterfront pathway. Photo: Douglas Feiden

  • A popular sledding hill near Gracie Mansion may be closed for a second consecutive winter as a result of construction delays in repairs to the nearby East River Esplanade. Photo: Douglas Feiden

The reconstruction of a collapsed stretch of the East River Esplanade near Gracie Mansion, originally scheduled to be completed by this May, will take several months longer than anticipated because of unforeseen design work, Our Town has learned.

The repair forced the closure of part of Carl Schurz Park early last summer after a portion of the waterfront path, near East 89th Street, crumbled into the East River during a May rainstorm.

Fencing blocks access to the waterfront esplanade from roughly East 88th to East 90th Streets, as well as to a hill just north of Gracie Mansion — a popular winter destination for neighborhood sled-riders — which was selected as a staging area for construction equipment to access the esplanade.

As a result of delays relating to the hill, located near the entrance to the FDR Drive tunnel that runs under Carl Schurz Park, the project is now expected to be completed “next winter,” according to a Parks Department official.

“Due to additional design work needed to address site access and foundation issues, NYC Parks needs to build a temporary bridge over the FDR tunnel,” a Parks Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The tunnel itself is not strong enough to handle the construction equipment that we must drive over it to complete the necessary work.”

The Parks Department began design work on the esplanade reinforcement project in 2015, but the design process was not complete when construction began sooner than expected last year following the collapse. The Parks Department became aware of the issues with using the hill as an access point when construction started, the spokesperson said, which required the department to do additional design work and change orders to the construction contract. The temporary bridge will be located within Carl Schurz Park near East 89th Street and will span the area where the FDR Drive tunnel runs under the park, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for City Council Member Ben Kallos, whose district includes Carl Schurz Park, said that his office had not been made aware of the delay in the project timeline. The spokesperson said Kallos was planning to ask “tough questions” of Parks officials on the matter at an upcoming budget hearing.

When construction began at the site last July, Parks Department officials projected the work would take less than a year to complete. Soon after work started, Crystal Howard, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, told Our Town that the hill would be used because “it was the best option for safe access to the esplanade during construction.”

The work is part of the $15 million first phase of a city initiative to reinforce esplanade sea walls on the East Side.

“Built into the budget are contingency funds for issues such as these that come up during the execution of a project, so the budget, at this time, has not changed,” the Parks spokesperson said. “That said, once the change orders are approved, we will check the totals again.”

Tricia Foley, who lives nearby on East End Avenue and walks her dogs on the esplanade every morning, said she was upset to learn of the delays. “They assured everybody it would be done by May,” she said. “I just think it’s disgraceful.”

The waterfront esplanade is a “peaceful oasis in the city” and a major amenity for the neighborhood’s residents, Foley said, that has been disrupted by construction delays in recent years, including of a pedestrian bridge near East 81st Street that opened at the end of last year, 18 months later than initially planned.

Area residents are now faced the prospect of a second winter without access to the popular sledding hill. When the project was first announced last spring, some residents expressed concern that the hill would be permanently impacted during construction, but the Parks Department committed to restoring and re-sodding the hill after completion of the project. A Parks official said the commitment hasn’t changed as a result of the new temporary bridge.

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