Officials report little progress on rebuilding closed footbridge at Great Falls

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PATERSON — The shutdown of the footbridge that connects the two sections of the Great Falls National Historical Park likely will continue well into 2023, officials said.

The closure of the bridge has prompted complaints from park visitors at a time when Mayor Andre Sayegh hopes that improvements around the Great Falls — including the reconstruction of historic Hinchliffe Stadium and a state-of-the-art visitor center — will become catalysts for Paterson’s revitalization.

Without the footbridge, visitors cannot walk directly from the Overlook section of the park, where they can get panoramic views of the Great Falls, to the Mary Ellen Kramer Park area, where on many days they can stand close enough to get wet from the waterfall’s mist.

“It’s the fulcrum of the visitor experience at the Great Falls,” said Michael Powell, Paterson’s economic development director.

The National Park Service closed the 96-foot-long bridge last August for safety reasons, saying the crossing had deteriorated to the point that it needed to be replaced.  That closure has forced visitors either to drive from one section of the park to the other or to take a walking detour over the Spruce Street Bridge, which is undergoing construction that has rendered the sidewalk closest to the Great Falls off-limits.

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The Great Falls became a national historical park ten years ago. Monday, November 8, 2021
The Great Falls became a national historical park ten years ago. Monday, November 8, 2021

Officials from various government agencies have not yet started work on building a new footbridge, largely because they have been unable to reach consensus on who owns the structure.

The Passaic Valley Water Commission built the footbridge in 1984 as part of an arrangement at that time that allowed the agency to install a large pipe across another footbridge that pedestrians had been using for decades, basically rendering it unusable for the public.

City officials have maintained that the water commission owns the bridge, an assertion they say is based on the fact that the PVWC constructed it. But the PVWC sees things differently.

“This is a strange one, as there’s no clear record of who owns the bridge,” said the commission’s spokesman, Joe Getz. “PVWC has had, and is continuing to have, meetings with Paterson and the National Park Service to determine who actually owns the bridge.  Apparently, there is differing but inconclusive documentation.”

The bridge’s closure was prompted by engineering studies done by the PVWC, officials said. A recent engineering study paid for by two private nonprofit groups confirmed that the bridge is “not salvageable,” said Darren Boch, superintendent of the national park.

Boch said the latest projections are that the bridge could be replaced with a prefabricated structure at a cost of about $300,000 and that it would take 11 months to produce once the various government agencies agree on a plan. He noted that the National Park Service has about $300,000 available for the footbridge project.

“The park service is working now with the city and other parties on finding a way we can quickly move ahead with designing and installing a new bridge,” Boch said.

The inconvenience caused by the shutdown of the bridge likely will become more impactful when Hinchliffe reopens later this year on the north side of the river near the Great Falls, officials said.

The stadium would have capacity for about 7,000 people, but the parking garage being built at the site has only 314 spaces, with more than half of them allocated to housing developments in the area. Hinchliffe’s developers have said people attending events at the stadium also would park at a location just across the river on the south side.

As a result, the ongoing closure of the footbridge across the river could affect people going to Hinchliffe, officials said.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.

Email: editor@patersonpress.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ Great Falls bridge remains closed