The Problem With Shore Road in Westchester County

Featured photo Adobe Stock | dusanpetkovic1

One of the county’s most hazardous byways, Shore Road’s dangers are drawing attention due in part to a tragic death and a short film.

Shore Road, the winding, rutted, ribbon of highway that snakes through the marshlands of Pelham Bay Park and connects Westchester County to the Bronx, may be one of the most photographed roads in the area. But it’s not for the scenery; it’s because of its hazards.

“The route evolved from an ancient Native American trail, says Pelham historian Blake Bell. “It’s been a problem for more than 160 years.” Today, 12,000 vehicles a day use it.

Shore road
Photo courtesy of Tommy Breen and James Breen

A 1.4-mile section of Shore Road from the county line south to Pell-Bartow Circle frequently floods — and turns to ice in winter — forcing vehicles through giant pools of water or around them, toward oncoming traffic. Drivers must navigate stopped buses and potholes on the single-lane road, often halting to let approaching traffic pass.

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Fender benders are a frequent sight. One night in February 2016, brothers and filmmakers Tommy and James Breen of Larchmont saw five or six cars pulled over to the side of the road with flat tires or dented rims. “It was pitch-black and a ridiculously cold February night,” says Tommy Breen, “and we thought, Someone is going to die.”

The next morning, they began filming. With a drone above and cameras below, the brothers documented Shore Road traffic dodging or plowing through water, ice, and snow. James Breen posted the short film, Shore Road Dangers, on Facebook. “Within 24 hours, it had received 10,000 views,” he says. “Seeing it from the air caught people’s attention.”

New York City took notice, as did local media, which broadcast more photos and video. Council hearings were held. When Tommy Breen questioned former Mayor Bill de Blasio at a town hall, the mayor said the city was aware of the problems. But year after year, capital improvements to Shore Road were left out of the city budget.

Shore Road crash
Photo courtesy of Tommy Breen and James Breen

On January 16, 2019, the Breens’ foreboding prediction came true. Off-duty NYPD officer Brian Kessler, 28, was killed on Shore Road on his way home to New Rochelle in a horrific crash with a garbage truck. NYC DOT says the crash occurred for “unknown reasons” at a curve near the Pelham Bay Golf Course.

Recently, an exhaustive $1.5 million study recommended that Shore Road be reconstructed and elevated. The estimated cost to New York City for the capital project would be about $60 million.

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Bronx Council Member Marjorie Velázquez tells Westchester Magazine that “spending $60 million on a 1.4-mile stretch of road is cost-prohibitive, not to mention the environmental impact on the marshlands.” But a spokesperson for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose congressional district includes Shore Road, says, “This is a priority for our office and the community” and that federal grants could be made available.

It’s been seven years since the brothers’ first film went viral, and they’re still out there, shooting video on Shore Road. “It’s frustrating to see it drag on like this,” Tommy Breen says, “but we’d be thrilled to play a role in preventing future accidents.”

Related: What Does the Future Hold for the Waterfront in Hastings?

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