By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Officials on Tuesday celebrated the groundbreaking of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, a pedestrian bridge that will span the Mohawk River, connecting the Amsterdam's South Side neighborhood to its downtown in the north.
State, county and city officials gathered at the site Tuesday to mark the progress on the $16.5 million project that is expected to produce 300 jobs, while creating a park-like environment over the Erie Canal.
"This is a monumental triumph for everyone involved," Mayor Ann Thane said.
"More importantly, it's a permanent tribute to the various individuals who conceived of this project and never wavered over the years."
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko said the bridge not only provides a connection between the north and the south sides, but a connection between the community and the area's history.
"This infrastructure is transformational," Tonko said. "This 'ribbon' that will traverse a historic waterway will long serve as a welcome banner that will enable us to share our sense of pride and togetherness, build upon the strength of invention and innovation that inspired a westward movement and sparked an industrial revolution."
Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton said the bridge will help support the city's economy by connecting the South Side's neighborhoods, the Erie Canalway Trail, Riverlink Park and downtown Amsterdam.
Once complete, the area will be transformed into a unique recreational destination that is expected to draw millions of tourists looking to explore historic Amsterdam and enjoy the local amenities.
Stratton said the Erie Canalway Trail currently generate $380 million each year in tourism spending upstate, with $41 million of that coming from the 1.4 million people who use the trail, which will connect at the overlook.
"The Mohawk Gateway Overlook will truly be a park, a destination for area residents and visitors alike, suspended over one of the most historic waterways in all of America," Stratton said. "It will be a connection, an artery, to join communities and neighborhoods who may share a zip code, but perhaps not a common identity."
Tonko said the project is a culmination of planning that dates back to 1983, when Amsterdam became the first community to be part of the local waterfront revitalization program.
It was approved as part of the 2005 statewide ballot referendum, The Rebuild and Renew New York Transportation Bond Act.
In 2008, after a series of public hearings and community visioning sessions, the Canal Corporation finalized a design for the 500-foot steel multi-girder bridge.
A 30-foot wide concrete deck will serve as home to a unique "Park-Over-the River" concept, integrating the walkway with planters, landscape lighting, railings, benches and other public amenities.
Concrete surfaced pedestrian trails, decorative retaining walls and plantings will be incorporated on both bridge approaches creating a continuous park-like environment.
After the press conference, officials walked around the construction site to view the footings that have already been installed and watch the crews across the river on the north side where similar work is being done.
The view was partially blocked by the large crane sitting in the middle of the water, where work is being done to install the footings for the center pier, the central support for the expanse.
Kubricky Construction of Wilton, which was awarded the contract, is expected to finish construction of the bridge by late 2015, with landscaping and additional aesthetics to be completed in early 2016.
Once complete, the Canal Corporation will own the bridge and be responsible for all capital improvements, while the city of Amsterdam will be responsible for general maintenance and upkeep.
City Economic Development Director Robert Von Hasseln said the construction of the project made him hope for a complete revitalization of the city.
"Things are starting to turn," he said. "It's like an ocean liner. It takes time to turn, but once you start turning, it will keep going."
Von Hasseln anticipates the bridge drawing enough tourists to provide an economic boost in the millions. He said there will be a direct and indirect fiscal impact. The direct impact will be felt through the amount of sales tax and hotel bed tax revenues; the indirect impact will be the people that begin to move back into the area.
Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the bridge will be a catalyst to promote tourism and bring new people into the area.
"As we get people interested to visit this, then they will be interested in visiting our historic sites and appreciate what we have here in the Mohawk Valley," he said.
City resident Dave Brownell was among a handful of residents who came out for the groundbreaking. As a bicyclist, Brownell said the pedestrian bridge will provide a safer route across the river then the current Route 30 bridge.
"Going over that bridge is dangerous. Riding on the sidewalk is illegal, but there is not enough room on the shoulder. This bridge will be a nice access," Brownell said, adding that it would also enhance the city's streetscape. "It is going to be pretty and we can hold events like the downtown festival."