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Historic High Bridge Re-Opens

Historic High Bridge Re-Opens [Photo: Rebecca Lewis, WFUV]

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The High Bridge is the oldest standing bridge in New York City. It was built in the 1800's and originally opened in 1848. This makes it 35 years older than the Brooklyn Bridge which is commonly thought to be the oldest. After 45 years of being closed, the High Bridge was re-opened to the public on Tuesday.

The bridge was built as the final link in the Old Croton Aqueduct which brought fresh water into the burgeoning city in its first water supply system. It connects the West Bronx and Washington Heights in Manhattan. The bridge was never built for cars and is the only inter-borough bridge used exclusively by bikers and pedestrians.

Long-time Bronx resident Bernard Wallace said he used to cross the High Bridge as a kid in the 1990's when it was still closed. He said he and his friends had to climb over barbed wire in order to sneak across, but that it was worth it. On Tuesday, Wallace was wearing a High Bridge shirt of his own design to show his love for the bridge and his excitement to see it officially open for the first time in his lifetime.

"I waited so long for this day and I just can't wait to bring my family," Wallace said. "I've got two kids, [ages] five and three, and I just can't wait for them to experience and feel [what it's like] to walk across this historic High Bridge of New York City."

The bridge will connect residents of the Bronx and Manhattan to parks, recreation centers and other resources in both communities. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. said he hopes it'll draw more people to the area.

"Downtown Manhattan may have the High Line, but Uptown we have the High Bridge," Diaz said.

Diaz also said he hopes the bridge will show there is more to the Bronx than just the Yankees and the Bronx Zoo.

"This bridge will allow for us to, again, showcase a wonderful, wonderful destination... and we want people from outside of Manhattan and outside of the Bronx to come and enjoy it," Diaz said.  "And then after that, maybe take a stroll in the local neighborhood and help out the merchants in the area as well."

Elizabeth Lorris Ritter is a member of Community Board 11 in Manhattan and has been trying to get the High Bridge re-opened for 20 years. She's excited to see her hard work and the hard work of everyone else involved in the project come to fruition. And she's already touting the bridge as one of the best places to visit in the city.

"I have a friend visiting from Jamaica, the Caribbean, not Queens, in a couple of weeks and when she said she wanted to see some unusual, off-the-beaten-path tourist things of New York, not the same old stuff she usually does, I said 'Have I got the site for you, we're walking across the High Bridge,'" Ritter said.

The project to restore and improve the High Bridge cost $61.8 million with money coming from the city as part of PlaNYC, as well as federal funding from Congressman José E. Serrano and the Federal Highway Administration. It was completed after years of advocacy from groups like the the City Parks Foundation, Friends of Old Croton Aqueduct and United Parents of Highbridge. Renovations were done by NYC Parks and the NYC Department of Design and Construction.