McLoughlin: Bridge funds wait; drive to spend doesn’t
Must we endure yet another summer without a pedestrian bridge connecting the north and south of Amsterdam over the Mohawk? Sadly, the answer is not “no.” In fact, the Thruway Authority says four summers may slip by before we can enjoy a leisurely afternoon back and forth on the span that critics still call “Paul Tonko’s Bridge to Nowhere,” (but what do they know?).
Work on what some are calling a waste of $17.5 million in other people’s taxes now is due to start in the spring of 2013 with a ribbon-cutting planned before the summer of 2015, the Thruway people told me this week. All that we older folks can hope is that we should last that long to witness the spectacle.
I had not read anything about the bridge since last year, but I thought that maybe it’s the kind of thing that people only talk about in even-numbered years. In going through the news clips it was clear that, despite the critics, there are those who want the span. Supporters seem to fall into two categories: Those who say it will bring tourists flocking to what once was the Rug City, and others who, like one downtown merchant, warn that if Amsterdam does not spend this windfall then some other community along the Mohawk surely will.
Tourism makes for an excellent point. Imagine all the Canadian senior citizens traveling to Amsterdam for a full day of sprightly gamboling on that span. I do not know what it says about (or “aboot” as they say) life in Quebec, but Canadian seniors apparently will travel hundreds of miles to see just about anything. They pile onto buses to travel to shopping malls of the same type they certainly have in Montreal and environs, so imagine what a magnet the Amsterdam bridge will be!
Then there is the point about other Mohawk River communities poaching the $17.5 million that Paul Tonko obtained when he was an assemblyman.
Pretty much, that cannot happen because, the way the Thruway folks explain it, Tonko got that amount of the larger bond issue earmarked specifically for Amsterdam in a memo of understanding between the governor and the lawmakers. The governor and the legislators would have to rescind the money and, as is well known, they are in the business of giving tax money, not rescinding.
But the argument — that we might just as well spend these tax dollars or someone else will — is a thoroughly American one and is reminiscent of the new, state-financed $80,000 boathouse for racing sculls in the City of Watervliet. Had someone asked me several years ago what civic improvement was most needed in Watervliet, I do not believe my imagination, feeble as it is, would ever have landed on a racing scull boathouse. Imagine the joy, though, among Watervlietians when Mayor Mike Manning snipped the ribbon last month and they finally had a place to store all those racing sculls that had been taking up valuable space in garages and carports. He envisions many Watervliet High School students, who probably have never seen the word “scull” spelled without a “K,” taking up the sport. And the mayor is not the least inhibited when it comes to free state or federal money. Manning told me that he had promised Watervliet residents that he would obtain $5 million during his four-year term and said he was a little concerned because the tally is only $3.71 million after three years.
Getting back to the Amsterdam pedestrian bridge, has anyone thought of a zip line instead? Zip lines are so much cooler than foot-bridges, but I concede that actor Hugh Jackman’s accident on a zip line in Australia on the Oprah show could scare off Canadian seniors.
So what about gondolas in place of the bridge? Gondolas with gondoliers singing opera. Certainly they would be cheaper and Providence, Rhode Island, a Northeast city with a rich Italian-American heritage like Amsterdam’s, already has gondolas in a very successful summer-long festival known as Waterfire where the gondolas and other craft (racing sculls?) glide by these huge bonfires floating in the river to musical accompaniment.
Think about it. And get back to me.