The new span of the Kosciuszko [Ko-Schoo-Skoh] bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens officially opened on Thursday. It’s part of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $500 million dollar plan to strengthen the city’s bridges and roadways – with a little flair. The new bridge lit up last night with thousands of colorful LED lights that Cuomo hopes will make the bridge safer and draw in more tourism. Emily Dugdale reports from last night’s bridge light show at Maspeth, Queens.
DUGDALE: You can’t get far talking about this bridge without running into a problem. How do you pronounce it’s name? In front of a packed crowd of politicians and community stakeholders, Cuomo set the record straight. New Yorkers who say Kos-Kee-Os-Ko? You’re wrong.
CUOMO 1: The polish correct way to say the word is Ko-shoo-schko. So repeat after me. The Ko-shoo-schko Bridge. [“the Ko-schoo-schko Bridge”]. One more time, the Ko-schoo-schko Bridge….
DUGDALE: The Kosciuszko Bridge is named after Thomas Kosciuszko, a Polish-born revolutionary war hero. It’s about to hit its eighth decade, and it’s getting a huge makeover. Yesterday the first new span of the bridge opened to traffic and the City took to the Queens side of the bridge to celebrate. It’s just the first part of Cuomo’s ambitious plan to light up every bridge in the City with dazzling LED lights.
Queens native Tamika Williams-Moore is at the ceremony admiring the bridge. She says the LED lights are a step in the right direction to show off city treasures off the beaten path.
WILLIAMS-MOORE 1: It’s a beautiful bridge. And with the lighting, it’s definitely going to attract tourists. (0:04).
DUGDALE: Cuomo hopes adding the colorful lights will not only make bridges safer, but also bring more money into the City. LED lights installations on the San Francisco Bay Bridge reportedly brought in $100 million dollars in economic activity – and this part of Queens would love the business tourists would bring.
Susan Sanderson researches the evolution of LED light at the Rensselaer [Ren-sah-leer] Polytechnic Institute in New York. She says New York’s plan to light up city infrastructure with LED is overdue.
SANDERSON: New York does have to keep up. New York City is kind of behind. What I think Cuomo is doing is he’s really making that first generation investment.
DUGDALE: It’s an investment Sanderson’s seen in other cities that will save energy, make roads safer, and increase tourism. Soon, she says, we’ll see digital wireless communication and even biohazard detection through LEDs. Laying the groundwork for this on the bridge is essential.
SANDERSON: The fact is that cities have to be modernized and digitized, and lighting is just an important enabler in this whole thing.
But LED lights are just part of the bridge’s makeover. Nearly 200,000 commuters use the Kosciuszko Bridge each day. And everyone agrees – traffic is killer. Marta Strekowski is waiting in the rain just off the bridge. She’s lived in the area for over 20 years.
STREKOWSKI 1: “Always, always traffic. I don’t think I’ve ever been on the bridge when it wasn’t bumper to bumper.
DUGDALE: And there’s more.
STREKOWSKI 2: Horrible conditions, in terms of the asphalt, and potholes… just, a nightmare, in one word.
DUGDALE: Cuomo says now those problems are in the past. The updated bridge will cut traffic by 65 percent once the second span is finished. That’s a nice thing to hear, especially for 14-year old Sophia Wojnar and her mom, Joanna – who drives her daughter to school over the bridge everyday. Joanna doesn’t speak English, so Sophia translates.
[Joanna in polish, Sophia translates]
SOPHIA WOJNAR: She said that yes, there’s a lot of traffic and she’s hoping that if they open it up more, there will be less, and she’s really excited about it because she wants to spread the Polish heritage.”
DUGDALE: They’re one of dozens of Polish families pressed up against the bridge watching a piece of their history light up the skies. But while the lights will be fun, Joanna says there are better uses for the money.
[Joanna in polish, Sophia translates]
SOPHIA WOJNAR: She cares a lot for homeless people, so maybe instead of putting lights on, there would be a better thing to do to spend it on the homeless people, give them homes and food and baskets and stuff like that. (0:09)
DUGDALE: But New York native Tamika Williams-Moore says the lights are living up to her expectations. She’s holding a drink and swaying to Bruno Mars’s hit “Happy” as Cuomo flips the switch, and the LED lights start to dance over the steel bridge.
WILLIAMS-MOORE 2: “I’m having a great time, it makes you feel like you’re happy to be a New Yorker tonight. Although tomorrow’ Friday and we’ll be back to the hustle and bustle
DUGDALE: At least it’ll be a lot brighter in this corner of Queens. Emily Dugdale, Columbia Radio News.