To the Editor:
The recent mechanical problem with the Roosevelt Island access bridge on Friday, September 23, underscores a very serious problem that has long been ignored by a variety of federal, state and city agencies. Last week, once again, during the UN General Assembly meeting, East River traffic was diverted from the west channel to the east channel, requiring our antiquated drawbridge to open and close frequently to enable river traffic to pass.
This diversion ostensibly was initiated to protect the UN campus from being attacked from a passing boat. Each bridge closure is designed to last 15 minutes, but typically lasts longer, preventing emergency responders’ vehicles, such as fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, from either entering or exiting the Island. The backed-up traffic on Main Street and Vernon Boulevard add even more time. As another point of information, the NYC Fire Department Special Operations Command Center is located on the Island. If they needed to make a rescue, they would be unable to exit the Island.
Further, even if earlier promises to station first responders here were kept, they could not handle emergencies such as a major building fire, or transport a critically ill or severely injured patient to a hospital in time to save a life. These bridge closures put the lives and safety of over 12,000 residents and workers at risk. Imagine if a child in any of the schools or playgrounds falls and is severely injured.
I am convinced that these closures and river traffic diversions are nothing more than a publicity display. For one, it is clear by looking at an NYC map, that the southern tip of the Island is directly opposite the UN campus, so that even with Coast Guard and NYPD boats, a terrorist on a northbound vessel could stage an attack as it is about to enter the east channel. Or it could even attack the Long Island City power plant and knock out the entire city’s electricity for months.
Instead of these unnecessary closures, the following steps must instead be taken: First, all pleasure boats should be prohibited from north- or south-bound passage in either channel during the times in question. Secondly, the only non-governmental boats allowed to pass during those times should be fuel delivery to the power plants. Third, RIOC should enlist the assistance of our city, state and federal elected officials to meet with Homeland Security and other agencies to resolve this issue. Last, funding must be provided to address the problem which caused the bridge mechanisms to malfunction September 23 after a full week of openings and closings.
The only way we will resolve this issue is to get our residents involved. Please keep writing and calling your elected officials, starting with RIRA representatives and including all our city, state, and federal officials.