Plan to Resurface a Brook Buried in the Bronx Moves Forward — but the MTA Could Still Derail It
A green vision decades in the making received design approval, but land pivotal to construction is needed from the MTA.
The city Public Design Commission unanimously approved a preliminary design plan for the Tibbetts Brook Daylight and Greenway project in Van Cortlandt Park that would unearth a body of water covered by concrete and pavement for decades.
Now, city agencies can start finalizing a request for bids to construct the project, said Karen Argenti, board secretary for the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. But the MTA could slow down the Tibbetts Brook project because it owns land crucial to construction.
The plan would bring approximately 1.8 miles of Tibbetts Brook above ground, from Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond in Van Cortlandt Park to the Harlem River, lowering the amount of clean water that enters the Broadway sewer system in Kingsbridge.
Less water in the sewer system would reduce the amount of flooding and sewage overflow into the Harlem River by an estimated 220 million gallons per year, according to a report by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Environmental Protection.
Tibbetts Brook begins in Yonkers and runs through Kingsbridge until it reaches the Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The stream was entirely above ground until waterways in Kingsbridge were filled in after 1900 to make way for more development.
It would also extend the Putnam Greenway by 1.2 miles from Van Cortlandt to West 230th Street, as part of Mayor Eric Adams’ ambitious plan to extend the Harlem River Greenway.
Back to Nature
The Design Commission’s approval now brings city officials one step closer to cracking the concrete and beginning construction. The $133 million project cleared a major barrier in January when Adams announced the city had purchased land necessary to work on existing infrastructure from railroad freight company CSX Transportation for $11.2 million. However, that deal is still in the process of being finalized.
Local advocates and environmentalists have pushed for what they say would be among the largest green infrastructure projects New York City has ever tackled. Daylighting the brook would restore the stream to its more natural state — and ease local flooding.
Because of “polluted water emptying directly into our freshwater system,” local City Councilmember Eric Dinowitz (D-The Bronx) testified on Monday, “the basements of nearby buildings experienced water coming up from the pipes due to the pressure on our sewer system.” He pointed to the flooding of the Major Deegan Expressway two years ago as an example of an overworked system.
“And this project will certainly relieve that pressure on the surrounding houses and buildings that share that combined sewer,” Dinowitz said.
City officials told THE CITY that they will begin removing invasive species from Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond later this year and expect to break ground on the daylighting project in 2025, with construction to finish in 2028.
MTA vs. NYC?
Daylighting the brook still faces a potential obstacle in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The MTA owns and operates land between West 230th and West 225th streets, referred to by the agency as the Bronx North Yard, where its Marble Hill Metro-North station borders the Harlem River.
Engineers would need access to the water piping and infrastructure below the railroad tracks to complete the Tibbetts Brook project.
According to a source familiar with conversations the MTA has had with local elected officials, the transit operator is considering moving waste management from Grand Central Terminal to the Marble Hill transfer station, which would threaten a prior agreement with the city to transfer that land to the Parks Department.
At the design commission hearing on Monday, those pushing for the Tibbetts daylighting project criticized the transit authority.
“[It] was part of the original design decades ago, and MTA who owns that property does not seem to be willing to cooperate with the city, and that is very important if we can make this greenway go further south,” testified Chauncy Young, representing the Harlem River Working Group, comprised of community organizations and governmental agencies aiming to improve the quality of the river.
An MTA spokesperson said there have never been any plans to transfer that land between West 225th and West 230th streets to the city. They added that Metro-North Railroad declined a request from advocates to turn over their yard space for a greenway in the February meeting, and that using the entire yard would be detrimental to Metro-North operations and would disconnect the Hudson Line from Grand Central Terminal.
The MTA did not deny it was considering moving its waste management to the Marble Hill transfer station.
“The Bronx North Yard is an active rail facility, encompassing critical and necessary infrastructure to Metro-North operations,” MTA spokesperson Ray Raimundi told THE CITY in a written statement. “Metro-North will continue to engage with its partners in the City on ideas and solutions to make the Bronx greener without sacrificing operations of the railroad and the hundreds of thousands of riders it transports daily.”
But in a 2011 land use review process for the Putnam Greenway, the City Planning Commission noted that the Parks Department eventually would be able to lease the tracks from the MTA to extend the greenway.
“The MTA will continue to maintain and use these tracks until at least 2013, after which time DPR (the Parks Department) is planning to lease the ROW (Railroad Right-of-Way) from the MTA for the purpose of creating another segment of greenway that will connect to that of the current proposal,” the commission noted. “Eventually the goal is to have the greenway continue along the waterfront of the Harlem River, connecting to other existing and proposed greenways further to the south.”
Assemblymember Jeff Dinowitz (D-The Bronx), father of Councilmember Dinowitz, told THE CITY that he did not welcome a waste management site.
“The Bronx shouldn’t be a dumping ground,” he said, noting that if the city is unable to access the land, it could be a “significant roadblock.”
“The MTA Metro-North — they ask for a lot of things from the elected officials, from the city, from the state. And I would hope that they would also give when it’s appropriate, and this is one of those times that they need to give,” he added.