Before a crowd of more than 100 local residents and public officials last week, Ulster County executive Mike Hein presided over the opening of the new bridge over the Wallkill River. “This is so much more than just a bridge,” said Hein “It is a public-works project that will be beneficial to the entire county.”
He acknowledged the efforts of county and local officials, the members of the New Paltz Citizens Bridge Advisory Committee involved in the design and planning process that began 18 months ago, and the hard work of the members of the Ulster County Department of Public Works.
Hein attributed the before-deadline opening (the new span was originally promised by the end of the year) and the on-budget implementation to the involvement of local citizens who had worked closely with Ulster County planning, engineering and highway department staff.
“You see, thanks to all these folks, they’ve done what everybody said couldn’t be done,” he said. “That we could run a seamless project with almost no negative impact on traffic, business or the lives of the residents of New Paltz.”
Long-time county senior engineer Ed Pine and the county bridge crew working under the supervision of Bob Mooers were instrumental in completing the project.
Local resident Rich Gottlieb, a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee and owner of outdoor equipment and clothing outfitter Rock and Snow, was excited about the opening. “The new bridge over the Wallkill is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts. It went flawlessly, it went fast. The view, it’s as if we had blinders on when the old bridge was up.” The iconic view of the Shawangunk Ridge was now unobstructed.
In order to minimize disruption, Ulster County workers had constructed a temporary bridge that ran alongside the old one. As soon as the temporary bridge is removed, the remaining support footings will be transformed into a permanent scenic overlook and park adjacent to the bridge bike path and pedestrian walkway.
The widow of Korean War veteran Carmine Liberta, after whom the bridge is named, cut the ceremonial ribbon, and traffic was quickly allowed to begin crossing the new span. “We don’t need a lot of pomp and ceremony,” said Hein. “Let’s simply let the people who paid for the bridge start to use it.”
Village mayor Tim Rogers spoke approvingly of the project. “I’m most proud of how everyone worked together. The county DPW guys told me how much they appreciated the cooperation of the village DPW staff when they needed help diverting water lines, diverting traffic and moving communication cables,” Rogers said. “It’s nice to see everyone working well together.”
Rogers too was impressed by the view. “We all knew how stunning this ridge was, but I don’t think we understood how breathtaking the view is from this spot. I think everyone is really impressed. This is a great thing for New Paltz.”
As the dignitaries departed, county workers began dismantling the temporary bridge and preparing the way for the coming new park, for the widening of Route 299, and for the addition of bike lanes to the west.
The new bridge and road improvements will be an integral part of a six-mile walking-and-biking trail from the Hudson River to the Shawangunk Ridge.