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LIRR unveils $17.5M bridge to public in Westbury

Community members take advantage of the Ellison Ave.

Community members take advantage of the Ellison Ave. bride opening near the LIRR in Westbury, April 15, 2016. Credit: Johnny Milano

A new $17.5 million bridge along Ellison Avenue in Westbury opened to the public Friday, replacing a 120-year-old span that was long regarded as one of the most deteriorated and dangerous on Long Island.

Officials with the Long Island Rail Road, which built the bridge over its tracks, gathered with local and state elected leaders to unveil the new Ellison Avenue Bridge, trumpeted by the LIRR for coming in on time and within budget.

“We’re very pleased and we fully expect the new bridge will last another 120 years, at least,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the bridge, which extends across the railroad’s Main Line.

Originally constructed in 1896 and rebuilt in 1941, the bridge has been in rough shape for decades, and was frequently rated by the state Department of Transportation as the worst of the Island’s 700 bridges.

In recent years, the crumbling span was patched with steel plates, and nets had been set up below to catch falling debris.

Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro noted that the village first requested that the LIRR rebuild the bridge in a 1991 telegram. On Friday, Cavallaro and former Mayor Ernie Strada presented framed copies of the telegram to Nowakowski and Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who helped secure state funding for the project.

“Today we say goodbye to the worst bridge on Long Island, and we say hello to a new state-of-the-art bridge that was built the right way,” Martins said.

The old bridge was demolished in May, closing off the north-south road through the village to more than 11,000 cars that crossed it daily. Cavallaro praised the patience and cooperation of village residents, many of whom stepped foot on the bridge for the first time Friday.

“I saw tractor-trailers drive across here when the steel plates were still up and concrete dropping straight down onto the railroad tracks,” said Frank Kobylarz, a train enthusiast whose house abuts the foot of the bridge. “It’s great just seeing how brand-new it is.”

The two-lane bridge includes pedestrian walkways on both sides, and was constructed slightly wider than the original to accommodate the LIRR’s proposed third track on its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.

Martins said that while the new bridge is a “wonderful example of what can happen when things go right and the community works with the railroad,” the third track, which he has opposed, is a far larger and more complex effort.

“Hopefully, they’re able to meet the communities’ needs, concerns and wants much the same way that the railroad did here,” he said.

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