Accidents Waiting to Happen

RIOC's Next Emerging Scandal: Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix

Updated 45 weeks ago David Stone
Traffic cones protect newly finished curbs but do nothing to control two-way traffic entering and leaving the Roosevelt Island Bridge helix.
Traffic cones protect newly finished curbs but do nothing to control two-way traffic entering and leaving the Roosevelt Island Bridge helix.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

You might think, on the heels of the contaminated water scandal breaking out, not to mention the cat sanctuary fiasco and the disturbing undermining of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, RIOC would be on its best behavior, eager to heal as well as prevent future embarrassments, but no, if you thought so, you'd be wrong. We give you the Roosevelt Island Bridge "mess," for lack of a better word.

When RIOC brought a contract to its Board, asking for approval for Specialty Construction System, which was still working on the Tram Platforms at the time, to begin repairs on the Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix, Member Michael Shinozaki was skeptical. His questions about their qualifications, noting past poorly performing contractors, sent it back for staff review.

Next meeting, after stout reassurances by staff that Specialty Construction System knew its stuff for executing the project, the Board approved and work went forward.

But that proved to be a mistake, starting on Day One.

While the company may possess exemplary skills at concrete work, its lack of experience with road construction dynamics pitched into view, right away. The contractor simply did not know enough to touch all the essential bases.

A traffic control plan, for which RIOC says Specialty Construction System is fully responsible, failed immediately. Traffic jams backed up for blocks behind a system of frequently ignored traffic lights installed to make single lane availability work.

In crisis, Public Safety rushed to the rescue, stationing officers at the top and bottom of the helix, directing traffic in coordination with the inadequate by themselves traffic lights.

At the Island's expense, this continued for most of the project, which remains incomplete. RIOC has not said whether it will eat the expenses out revenues from building leases (and ultimately residents) or will demand that the contractor cover the costs.

While that situation was an embarrassment, what followed was ludicrous and dangerous.

RIOC's June 25th announcement, "The Helix will re-open to two-way traffic... on July 3," in time for 4th of July celebrations, didn't tell the whole story. The helix was indeed open to two-way traffic - recklessly - but the work, now weeks past its original completion date, is nowhere near finished.

As Frank Farance demonstrated in photography supplied to RIOC on July 2nd, when two-way traffic resumed, the helix was  unsafe due to negligence.

Without any signs to alert drivers and no lane striping of any kind, cars are shown going all over the place. In one frightening photo, a heavy truck comes near a head-on with a passenger car. In another, a driver merges into the left (oncoming) traffic lane to turn onto Main Street, apparently beleiving he's on a one-way street.

Heavy truck on passenger car on collision course.
Heavy truck on passenger car on collision course.
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance

A pair of bike riders, on foot, are shown pushing their bikes up the helix in space barely large enough for two average cars.

The dangers were impossible to miss, but miss them (or maybe not care about them) RIOC did.

RIOC's response?

By Friday, July 6th, RIOC had done nothing to help drivers with signs, but bizarrely, they'd painted a single orange stripe up the center of the helix, a stripe drivers uniformly ignored or were unable to understand. Why had RIOC used a nonstandard color, instead of the white motorists are familiar with and generally observe?

Who knows? RIOC made no public comment nor any change.

As Farance also documented, RIOC placed traffic cones that were of little use due to poor placement, at the top and the bottom of the helix, some of which bear markings that suggest they'd been purloined from ConEdison.

Come Monday, July 9th, one week after the opening, and as I've documented in my own photos, taken during rush hour, the situation is unimproved, and no human traffic controls - from RIOC or Specialty Construction System - were anywhere in sight as work continued on the helix.

RIOC has so far not announced any plan to ameliorate a situation that runs a strong risk to public safety and for damage to public property.

Our elected officials are, as usual, silent.

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