Riverhead, Southampton both sign on to apply for bridge funds

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A bridge proposal would connect downtown Riverhead with county-owned parkland on the south side of the Peconic River.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A bridge proposal would connect downtown Riverhead with county-owned parkland on the south side of the Peconic River.

By definition, a bridge needs two sides to move someone from one place to the next.

And one proposed pedestrian bridge — spanning the Peconic River to link downtown Riverhead to Riverside — now has the official support of both of those sides, as a majority of Riverhead Town Board members OK’d a measure last week to apply for a state grant application to fund the project.

Although proponents have said the bridge could help lift up the blighted Riverside area and contribute to the ongoing revitalization of downtown Riverhead, the application was approved by a slim 3-2 majority in Riverhead. Some have said the project is just too much.

“I can’t see how you can make it 35 feet high and land it in our parking lot,” said Supervisor Sean Walter, who opposed the application at last Thursday’s Town Board meeting.

The bridge, he said, has to be that high in order for boats to pass underneath — but at that size, he added, it could be out of character with the area.

“It will have a pretty big visual impact,” he said.

The application for the grant through the State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Department is being filed by Southampton Town, which envisions the bridge connecting Riverhead’s downtown riverfront parking lot with 14 acres of Suffolk County parkland in Riverside. On Tuesday, Southampton Town Board members unanimously approved separate measures to hire the firm designing the bridge and apply for the grant.

Councilman George Gabrielsen cast the other no vote on the grant application. He said he thinks the bridge will eventually cost much more than the $1.2 million Southampton Town officials have quoted. That estimate, Southampton officials say, came last year from the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. In addition, Southampton Town deputy supervisor Frank Zappone said in an interview Friday that the bridge would only need to be 25 feet high.

Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, which is backing the pedestrian bridge plan, said in an interview last Friday that Riverhead Town would not have to pay any construction or maintenance costs for the bridge.

The structure would be owned and maintained by Suffolk County and construction costs would come from state grants, he said. The deadline for applying for those state grants is June 16.

The Southampton Town Board also discussed the bridge proposal at its work session last Thursday, where board members interviewed representatives of AECOM, the architectural and engineering firm they hired to design the bridge.

The Southampton Town Board approved a resolution hiring AECOM on Tuesday, using over $85,000 in state grant funding issued for conceptual designs and final costs for the bridge. The town received 10 responses to a request for bridge design proposals and a selection committee comprising Southampton Town officials and residents as well as Riverhead council members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy overwhelmingly supported AECOM.

“The company that we selected has worldwide experience building pedestrian bridges of all sizes and shapes, in all kinds of communities,” Mr. Zappone said. “If they can’t figure it out, then nobody can.”