Suffolk’s latest plan for a new Smith Point Bridge in Shirley to replace the aging span includes a fishing dock, pedestrian walkway and a price tag of $112 million, county officials said.
The plan calls for a high bridge west of the current Shirley drawbridge, connecting the William Floyd Parkway to the popular Smith Point County Park. Construction of the bridge, the county’s largest infrastructure project alongside sewer and sewage systems, is scheduled to begin in 2024 and be complete in 2027, according to county public works commissioner Joseph Brown.
The current bridge, which spans Narrow Bay, was opened in 1959 during a July 4 ceremony attended by then-Long Island State Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, according to media reports of the time. The bridge was only intended to last about 40 years when built, and the structure is now falling into disrepair, Brown said.
Bridge is past its heyday
“It’s significantly longer than originally intended,” Brown said in an interview. “It’s also a drawbridge, and drawbridges inherently have a lot more problems.”
Drawbridges are more expensive and difficult to maintain because of their moving parts, he said. The new bridge will be 55 feet apart and fixed so boats can pass under it.
The bridge leads to the five-mile long Smith Point County Park, which attracts hundreds of thousands of beachgoers, campers and fishermen each year. The park also serves as the east entrance to Fire Island National Seashore and is the site of a waterfront memorial to those who died in the 1996 TWA Flight 800 crash.
Estimates for the project’s cost as of 2021 were $75 million, but have increased significantly due to rising construction prices and the addition of the 12-foot-wide pedestrian walkway, Brown said. The latest design also includes a belvedere, or vantage point, off the pedestrian walkway.
“This project is not just the bridge,” Legis said. James Mazzarella (R-Moriches), to whose ward Shirley belongs. “You get a fishing dock. You get a shared use path. You get observation areas on the bridge. It’s really a convenience and an added benefit.”
$90 million in federal funding
The project is expected to receive approximately $90 million in federal funding, according to the Suffolk County Legislature Budget Review Office’s 2023-25 capital budget report.
The Smith Point Bridge is one of nine Long Island bridges rated “poor” by the State Department of Transportation. A “poor” rating does not mean a bridge is unsafe or in danger of collapsing, but according to the DOT, it may need to be monitored, maintained and repaired more frequently, announced for weight limitations, or replaced in extreme cases of deterioration.
The county previously imposed a weight limit on the bridge due to its deficiencies.
The state’s DOT also recently gave the bridge a “red flag,” which Brown says means the county needs to discuss an action plan with the state. That could include reinforcement pieces to hold the bridge’s lock in place, but those crossing the bridge are not in immediate danger, he said.
In a statement, DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said the agency issued the red flag “after a routine inspection last fall found corrosion in a steel girder of the drawbridge.” After a more detailed structural analysis by Suffolk County, which owns the bridge and is responsible for maintenance, it was determined that the mechanism was not compromised and the bridge remains safely open for travel.
The bridge plan does not include preserving the ends of the old bridge to be used for recreational purposes, an idea local residents had proposed and dubbed the Smith Point Twin Decks Legacy Project. Mastic Park Civic Association President Raymond Keenan was disappointed that the landings would not be repurposed in a way he compared to the elevated High Line Park in New York City.
“We have a beautiful coastline down there,” he said. “It would be an advantage to have a community meeting space there.”
Brown said the double decks would have been expensive to maintain and could increase shadows cast over nearby wetlands.
The county will host an informational session on the project Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach. Those wishing to participate can email [email protected].
Vera Chinese reports on Suffolk County government and politics.