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Sleek pedestrian bridge planned over I-190 to Centennial Park

A design jury has selected a sleek concept for a pedestrian bridge to connect Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park to the West Side.

"It was the most iconic, it was in the great sense of the word practical, and also the most inventive," said Paul Seck, a partner with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm redesigning the park.

The bridge designers intend for it to be safer and more accessible than the current crossing.

The concept from German design firm Schlaich Bergermann Partner complements the park while drawing on the region's heritage by reflecting the patterns found in many buildings, including the Guaranty Building, said Powell Draper, who heads the firm's New York City office.

"We wanted to look back to the past to honor that heritage and at the same time look forward," Draper said. "We looked at all the requirements for the site, and an arch bridge became what we thought was the optimal solution. We hope it will be woven into the landscape and provide a near-seamless connection between the two parts of the park."

The new bridge would cross the Niagara Thruway between a new community park on 4th Street and Centennial Park. It would replace an aging bridge.

A rendering of the proposed bridge, shown Tuesday on a huge model of the park at Waterfront Elementary School, drew favorable responses from many of the more than 100 people who came for an update on the park redesign project.

"The bridge is very exciting, and it's needed," said Betsy Murphy, a West Side resident. "The current crossing is kind of creepy. I really like the look of it."

Amrit Singh, who lives on the waterfront and regularly uses the park, also likes it.

"I'm glad they did something out of the box and made it something nice that will stand out, and that people driving by can say, 'That's a cool-looking bridge,' " Singh said.

He also liked that the bridge would be easier to get on and off than the one now in use, which has switchback ramps at each end.

A rendering of the bridge over the Niagara Thruway to Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.

Parkgoers would come off the bridge near the sledding hill on the planned Great Lawn, which has been extended to the southern edge of the park. They would be a six-minute walk from the park's centrally placed, 2 1/2-acre playground.

Safety is a big concern, Draper said.

"When you're crossing the bridge, we want you to see a fair distance away and not have any surprises," he said.

The arches will be made of steel plate and get bigger at the top, where most of the load will be carried. The walls will be steel and cut into patterns. The deck walking surface will be concrete.

The bridge will receive three coatings of weather-resistant paint and be graffiti-proofed, Draper said.

Draper said artfully lighting the bridge through the hand rails is being considered. The walls will be tilted inward to discourage climbing, he said, with the railing also providing a deterrent.

Bridge construction is tentatively planned in 2021.

"We are working on an accelerated schedule," Draper said.

The bridge is expected to be assembled next to the site and lifted into place possibly as one piece, Draper said. That would minimize disruption to the highway and nearby rail line and speed up installation, he said.

"I think the bridge really creates a beautiful look, and they've made it easier for people with children in baby carriages," said Octavio Villegas, a West Side resident. "Taking away the zigzags makes it more inviting to cross over.

"I really enjoy the new design, and hope it will be everything they say it will be," Villegas said.

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