The Town of Babylon is replacing a pair of historic bridges in the American Venice section of Copiague to make the neighborhood more accessible to first responders during hurricanes and other emergencies.
The pair of bridges are icons of the South Shore waterfront district, which was designed in the 1920s to resemble Venice, Italy. But their age, low weight limit and narrow, arching roadways hindered fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from accessing parts of the 3,600-person neighborhood during superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The $8.8 million project, first proposed by a committee of area residents and civic leaders after the storm, will make the neighborhood safer, town officials said.
“In the event that such a catastrophe as Sandy hits us, we are prepared,” Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez said. “That is what this project is about.”
Babylon public works chief Tom Stay said the new bridges will also allow certain larger road repair vehicles to access the neighborhood for the first time in decades to carry out needed improvements.
Construction on the project began in the fall of 2017 and should conclude by the summer of 2019, according to Joe Guarino, an environmental analyst with the town. Babylon has hired Lockwood, Kessler & Bartlett of Syosset to carry out the engineering and design work, and H&L Contracting of Bay Shore to handle construction, officials said.
The replacement bridges, paid for with federal disaster recovery funding administered by New York State, will be about 7 feet wider and bear many more tons than their predecessors, town officials said. They will also feature the distinctive arch shape and stone parapets of the originals.
Replicating those features was important to preserve the neighborhood’s unique design history, said Babylon Town historian Mary Cascone.
A pair of developers, both European immigrants who settled in Brooklyn, purchased the 364 acres of marshland in 1925 and named it American Venice, Cascone said. To complete the picture, they dug canals and hired gondoliers to carry prospective land buyers alongside newly subdivided plots of filled-in marshland, she said. Prototype cottages with stucco walls and clay tile roofs were meant to further evoke the district’s Adriatic model.
Decorative columns on Montauk Highway, the canals and the bridges are among the few remaining original features of the neighborhood.
Cascone said she would have preferred a redesign that retained elements of the original bridges, which will be demolished. But she called the replacement plan “a good compromise.”
“It does not take away the historic importance of it, and it gives us something that will last much longer,” something that reminds residents of “our shared community history,” she said.