After seven years, the Kensico Dam roadway is reopen to pedestrians, cyclists and skaters but not vehicular traffic.
On May 24, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland announced the re-opening following a $42 million rehabilitation project that ended last December.
“The Kensico Dam Park is a vital public space in Westchester,” Astorino said. “Reopening the roadway will further expand the recreational opportunities that make Westchester a great place to live and visit.”
This originally appeared in the June 1, 2012 edition of The Harrison Report (Now, Harrison Review).
The Kensico rehabilitation consisted primarily of aesthetic restorations like the roof over the stone columns along each end of Westlake Drive, as well as mechanical repairs like the restoration of the dam drainage systems.
The roadway was first closed to vehicles in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 out of fear that it was a possible target of terrorist attacks, more specifically a car bomb. Experts said if the dam were compromised, it would cause a tidal wave and flood as far as Bronxville.
In 2004, New York City – which owns the dam – decided to leave the street closed permanently. Then-Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, a Democrat, was planning to reopen the roadway until he was paused by city officials briefing him on their decision to shut it down.
“They came up with the security people, they told us why, we allowed them to close it,” Spano told The Harrison Report in a 2011 interview.
Since then, Westchester and the Department of Environmental Protection have reassessed the situation and determined the 30.6 billion gallon reservoir is no longer the threat it was once perceived to be.
“Things can’t stay the same,” Astorino said. “It is not the case today as it was then. We are much more vigilant of potential terrorism wrongdoing.”
According to Chris Gilbride, a spokesperson for the New York City DEP, opening the dam road connecting North Castle and White Plains to recreational use is progress.
“The dam road is not slated for cars,” Gilbride said. “The first step is to allow pedestrians and then we can determine the specific exceptions over time.”
Republican Assemblyman Robert Castelli also attended the reopening as the roadway connects two municipalities within his state district.
“The reopening of the dam bridge is a milestone,” Castelli said. “It is one of the showcases of Westchester County.”
The reopening also marks the 2003 expansion of the city-owned reservoir area available for recreation. Today, 108,000 acres are open for recreation, 75,000 acres of which is land and 33,000 acres of which is water. While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
could not make the event, he and Astorino had been discussing the opening for some time.
The Kensico Dam provides more than 1 billion gallons of clean drinking water each day to 9 million residents in New York City, Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Ulster counties.