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George Washington Bridge

General Information

Other name(s): Hudson River Bridge
Beginning of works: 1927
Completion: 24 October 1931
Status: in use

Project Type

Structure: Suspension bridge
Support conditions:
Secondary structure(s): Structurae Plus
Structurae Plus
Function / usage: Motorway bridge / freeway bridge
Material: Steel bridge
Structurae Plus

Awards and Distinctions

Location

Location: , , ,
, , ,
Crosses:
  • Hudson River
Coordinates: 40° 51' 13.75" N    73° 57' 50.38" W
Coordinates: 40° 50' 57.56" N    73° 56' 27.30" W
Show coordinates on a map

Technical Information

Dimensions

main span 1067 m
length of side spans 186 m
total length 1 450 m
deck deck depth 8.8 m
deck width 36.3 m
tower height 183 m

Materials

cables steel
towers steel
deck truss steel

Chronology

1932

5.5 Million vehicles use the bridge in that year.

1958 — 1962

A second deck, already included in the original design, is built.

1962

20 Million vehicles use the bridge in that year.

1965

A private airplane hits the bridge. Pilot and bridge remain undamaged.

1978 — 1979

Upper deck reinforced concrete roadway replaced by orthotropic steel deck.

Excerpt from Wikipedia

The George Washington Bridge is a double-decked suspension bridge spanning the Hudson River, connecting the New York City borough of Manhattan with the New Jersey borough of Fort Lee. The bridge is named after George Washington, the first president of the United States. The George Washington Bridge is the world's busiest motor vehicle bridge, carrying over 103 million vehicles in 2016[update].[a] It is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a bi-state government agency that operates infrastructure in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The George Washington Bridge is also informally known as the GW Bridge, the GWB, the GW, or the George, and was known as the Fort Lee Bridge or Hudson River Bridge during construction.

The idea of a bridge across the Hudson River was first proposed in 1906, but it was not until 1925 that the state legislatures of New York and New Jersey voted to allow for the planning and construction of such a bridge. Construction on the George Washington Bridge started in October 1927; the bridge was ceremonially dedicated on October 24, 1931, and opened to traffic the next day. The opening of the George Washington Bridge contributed to the development of Bergen County, New Jersey, in which Fort Lee is located. The upper deck was widened from six to eight lanes in 1946. The six-lane lower deck was constructed beneath the existing span from 1958 to 1962 because of increasing traffic flow.

The George Washington Bridge is an important travel corridor within the New York metropolitan area. It has an upper level that carries four lanes in each direction and a lower level with three lanes in each direction, for a total of 14 lanes of travel. The speed limit on the bridge is 45 mph (72 km/h). The bridge's upper level also carries pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Interstate 95 (I-95) and U.S. Route 1/9 (US 1/9, composed of US 1 and US 9) cross the river via the bridge. The New Jersey Turnpike (part of I-95) and U.S. Route 46 (US 46), which lie entirely within New Jersey, terminate halfway across the bridge at the state border with New York. At its eastern terminus in New York City, the bridge continues onto the Trans-Manhattan Expressway (part of I-95, connecting to the Cross Bronx Expressway).

The George Washington Bridge measures 4,760 feet (1,450 m) long and has a main span of 3,500 feet (1,100 m). It had the longest main bridge span in the world at the time of its opening and held that distinction until the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.

Description

The George Washington Bridge was designed by chief civil engineer Othmar Ammann, design engineer Allston Dana, and assistant chief engineer Edward W. Stearns, with Cass Gilbert as consulting architect. It connects Fort Lee in Bergen County, New Jersey, with Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York. The bridge's construction required 113,000 short tons (101,000 long tons; 103,000 t) of fabricated steel; 28,000 short tons (25,000 long tons; 25,000 t) of wire, stretching 106,000 miles (171,000 km); and 20,000 short tons (18,000 long tons; 18,000 t) of masonry.

Decks

The bridge carries 14 lanes of traffic, seven in each direction. As such, the George Washington Bridge contains more vehicular lanes than any other suspension bridge, and is the world's busiest vehicular bridge. The fourteen lanes of the bridge are split unevenly across two levels: the upper level contains eight lanes while the lower level contains six lanes. The upper level opened in 1931, and is 90 feet (27 m) wide. The upper level originally had six lanes, though two more lanes were added in 1946. Although the lower level was part of the original plans for the bridge, it did not open until 1962. The upper level has a vertical clearance of 14 feet (4.3 m), and all trucks and other oversize vehicles must use the upper level. Trucks are banned from the lower level, which has a clearance of 13.6 feet (4.1 m). All lanes on both levels are 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 m) wide. Vehicles carrying hazardous materials (HAZMATs) are prohibited on the lower level due to its enclosed nature. HAZMAT-carrying vehicles may use the upper level, provided that they conform to strict guidelines as outlined in the Port Authority's "Red Book".

There are two sidewalks on the upper span of the bridge, one on each side. However, cyclists and pedestrians can usually only utilize the southern sidewalk, since the northern sidewalk is normally closed. The northern sidewalk was temporarily reopened in 2017 while a temporary suicide prevention fence was installed on the southern sidewalk, in preparation for the installation of permanent fences on both sidewalks.

The George Washington Bridge measures 4,760 feet (1,450 m) long and has a main span of 3,500 feet (1,100 m). Accounting for the height of the lower deck, the bridge stretches 212 feet (65 m) above mean high water at its center, and 195 feet (59 m) above mean high water under the New York anchorage. The bridge's main span was the longest main bridge span in the world at the time of its opening in 1931, and was nearly double the 1,850 feet (560 m) of the previous record holder, the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. It held this title until the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. The completion of the George Washington Bridge proved that longer suspension bridges were both physically and economically feasible. Prior to the bridge's construction, engineers had believed that a suspension span's length was a large indicator of a suspension bridge's economic feasibility.

The George Washington Bridge's total width is 119 feet (36 m). When the upper deck was built, it was only 12 feet (3.7 m) thick without any stiffening trusses on the sides, resulting in a deck weighing 1,100 pounds per square foot (5,400 kg/m2) and a length-to-thickness ratio of about 350 to 1. At the time of the George Washington Bridge's opening, most long suspension spans had stiffening trusses on their sides, and spans generally had a length-to-thickness ratio of 60 to 1, which translated to a weight of 13,000 to 14,000 pounds per square foot (63,000 to 68,000 kg/m2) and a thickness equivalent to an 11-story building. During the planning process, Ammann designed the deck around the "deflection theory", an as-yet-unconfirmed assumption that longer suspension decks did not need to be as stiff in proportion to its length, because the weight of the longer deck itself would provide a counterweight against the deck's movement. This had been tested by Leon Moisseiff in 1909 when he designed the Manhattan Bridge in 1909, though it was less than half the length of the George Washington Bridge. Stiffening trusses were ultimately excluded from the George Washington Bridge's design to save money; instead, a system of plate girders was installed on the underside of the upper deck. This provided the stiffening that was necessary for the bridge deck, and it was replicated on the lower deck during its construction. The plate-girders underneath each deck, combined with an open-truss design on the bridge's side that connected the decks with each other, resulted in an even stiffer span that was able to resist torsional forces.

Cables

The George Washington Bridge is supported by a total of 105,986 wires. There are four main cables, which suspend the upper deck and are held up by the suspension towers. Each main cable contained 61 strands, with each strand made of 434 individual wires, for a total of 26,474 wires per main cable. The cables were then covered by a sheath of weather-resistant steel. The bridge uses a wire-cable design of suspension, wherein the vertical suspender wires are attached directly to the main cables and the deck directly. The main cables each measure 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter.

Each side of the bridge contains an anchorage for the main cables. The anchorage on the New York side is a concrete structure, while the anchorage on the New Jersey side is bored directly into the cliff of the Palisades. Originally, the ends of the main cables were supposed to contain one of several ornamented designs, such as a wing, fin, tire, or even a statue at the end of each main cable. This was later eliminated in order to save costs after the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

Suspension towers

The suspension towers on each side of the river are each 604 feet (184 m) tall. They are composed of sections weighing between 37 and 40 short tons (33 and 36 long tons) and contain a combined 475,000 rivets. Each bridge has two archways, one above and one below the decks.

The original design for the George Washington Bridge's suspension towers called for them to be encased in concrete and granite in a Revival style, similar to the Brooklyn Bridge. The granite was supposed to help support the steel structure of the towers. After further scrutiny of the proposed bridge's engineering, it was found that the steel alone could support the towers. It was ultimately decided that the supporting structure of the towers should be made entirely of steel, with the granite serving only as a facade. The towers would have also contained elevators to carry sightseers to the top of each tower, with restaurants and observatories at the pinnacles.

The facades were postponed in 1929 during the Great Depression, when rising material costs made such a plan unfeasible. The entire weight of the bridge was supported by the steel structure, and the purely decorative masonry could be added later. Even though the steel towers had been left that way for cost reasons, aesthetic critiques of the bare steel towers were favorable. Several groups, such as the American Institute of Steel Construction, believed that covering the steel framework with masonry would be both misleading and "fundamentally ugly".

The masonry facades were ultimately never built; the exposed steel towers, with their distinctive criss-crossed bracing, became one of the George Washington Bridge's most identifiable characteristics. While the exposed steel towers' design was negatively received by a few critics such as Raymond Hood and William A. Boring, the public reception at the bridge's opening was generally positive. The Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier wrote of the towers: "The structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh." Milton MacKaye wrote in The New Yorker that the George Washington Bridge had established Ammann as "one of the immortals of bridge engineering and design, a genius." After the George Washington Bridge was successfully constructed without masonry towers, Ammann did not incorporate any masonry towers in his bridge plans. Ammann wrote that the "sturdy appearance and well-balanced distribution of steel in the columns and bracing" gave the bridge's towers "a good appearance, a neat appearance".

American flag

Since 1947 or 1948, the bridge has flown the world's largest free-flying American flag, measuring at 90 feet (27 m) long, 60 feet (18 m) wide, and 450 pounds (200 kg). Until 1976, the flag was taken out of a garage in New Jersey and manually erected on national holidays. During the United States' bicentennial, a mechanical hoisting system was installed, and the flag was stored along the bridge's girders when not in use. It is hoisted on special occasions when weather allows, and appears on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. Since 2006, the flag is also flown on September 11 of each year, honoring those lost in the September 11 attacks. On events where the flag is flown, the tower lights are lit from dusk until 11:59 p.m.

History

The bridge sits near the sites of Fort Washington (in New York) and Fort Lee (in New Jersey), which were fortified positions used by General George Washington and his American forces as they attempted to deter the occupation of New York City in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. Unsuccessful, Washington evacuated Manhattan by crossing between the two forts.[b]

Until the first decade of the 20th century, passage across the lower Hudson River was possible only by ferry. There were more than 200 separate municipalities along the lower Hudson River and the New York Bay, but no unified agency to control commerce or transport in the area. A fixed crossing of the Hudson was first proposed in 1888 by civil engineer Gustav Lindenthal, who later became New York City's bridge commissioner. The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad opened three pairs of tubes under the lower Hudson in the 1900s. The first vehicular crossing across the lower Hudson River, the Holland Tunnel, was opened in 1927, connecting Lower Manhattan with Jersey City.

Planning

Plans for a vehicular bridge across the Hudson River were being considered as early as 1906, during the planning for the Holland Tunnel. Three possible locations for a Hudson River bridge were considered in the vicinity of 57th, 110th, and 179th Streets in Manhattan. These three locations were considered to be the only suitable locations for suspension bridges; other sites were rejected on the grounds of aesthetics, geography, or traffic flows. In 1920, English architect Alfred C. Bossom proposed a double-decker bridge with room for vehicular and railroad traffic near 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The same year, Othmar Ammann and Gustav Lindenthal proposed a vehicular and railroad bridge to 57th Street in Manhattan, topped by an office building that would have been the world's tallest. Lindenthal's plan failed because it did not receive permits from the United States Army Corps of Engineers or approval from the city, and because Midtown Manhattan real estate developers and planners opposed the plan. Ammann unsuccessfully attempted to convince Lindenthal to build his bridge elsewhere, without a tower atop the bridge's terminus. In January 1924, the New York State Chamber of Commerce voted against the 57th Street location in favor of another location upstream. Despite this, Lindenthal proposed that the Hudson River bridge be built there, and carry 16 railroad tracks and 12 lanes of automotive traffic.

Meanwhile, Ammann became chief engineer of the Port of New York Authority (now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey), which was created in 1921 to oversee commerce and transport along the lower Hudson River and New York Bay. He had disassociated himself from Lindenthal's proposal by 1923, conducting his own studies on the feasibility of a bridge from 178th Street in Fort Washington, Manhattan, to Fort Lee in New Jersey. Ammann's advocacy for the Fort Washington–Fort Lee bridge gained support from both New Jersey governor George Silzer and New York governor Alfred E. Smith by mid-1923. In May 1924, Colonel Frederick Stuart Greene, the New York Superintendent of Public Works, announced a plan to construct a suspension bridge between Fort Lee and Fort Washington. At that location, both sides were surrounded by steep cliffs (The Palisades on the New Jersey side, and Washington Heights on the New York side). Thus, it was possible to build the bridge without either impeding maritime traffic or requiring lengthy approach ramps from ground level.

A New Jersey state assemblyman introduced a bill for the Hudson River bridge that December. This bill was passed in the New Jersey Assembly in February 1925. After an initial rejection by Silzer, the Assembly made modifications before passing the bill again in March, after which Silzer signed the bill. Around the same time, the New York state legislature was also considering a similar bill. A dispute developed between New York civic groups, who supported the construction of the Hudson River Bridge; and the Parks Conservation Association, who believed that the bridge towers would degrade the quality of Fort Washington Park directly underneath the proposed bridge's deck. In late March 1925, the chairman of the Parks Conservation Association noted that the proposed New York state legislation would provide for the actual construction of the bridge, rather than just the planning. Ultimately, the Hudson River bridge bill was passed in the New York state legislature, and Smith approved the bill that April.

In March 1925, Silzer asked Ammann to devise preliminary plans for the Hudson River bridge. Ammann found that the width of the Hudson River decreased by more than 1,000 feet (300 m) when it passed between Fort Lee and Fort Washington. The ledges of Fort Lee and Fort Washington were respectively 300 and 200 feet (91 and 61 m) above mean water level at this point, which was not only ideal geography for a suspension bridge, but also allowed the bridge to be high enough to give sufficient clearance for maritime traffic. However, the differing heights meant that a large cut had to be made through the Fort Lee ledge so that the bridge approach could be built there. The same month, the New Jersey legislature asked for funds for test bores to determine if the geological strata would support the bridge. In response to continuing concerns from park preservationists, Ammann stated that placing the New York suspension tower anywhere else would make the bridge look asymmetrical, which he believed was a worse outcome than placing the tower within the park.

The states conducted a study in mid-1925, which found that the Hudson River bridge would be able to pay for itself in twenty-five years if a 50-cent toll were to be placed on every vehicle. After funding was secured, surveyors began examining feasible sites for the future bridge's approaches in August 1925. By law, the New York end of the Hudson River Bridge could only be constructed between 178th and 185th Streets, and the New Jersey end had to be built directly across the river. Geologists made 300-foot (91 m) test bores on the New Jersey side to determine if the site was feasible for laying foundations for the bridge. Othmar Ammann was hired as the bridge's chief engineer. In Ammann's original plans for the bridge, which had been published in March 1925, he had envisioned that the bridge would contain two sidewalks; a roadway that could carry up to 8,000 vehicles per hour; and space for four railroad tracks, in case the two North River railroad tunnels downstream exceeded their train capacity. Cass Gilbert was hired in January 1926 to design architectural elements for the Hudson River bridge, including the suspension towers. The bridge design had yet to be finalized, and its cost could not even be estimated at that point due to the complexity of factors.

Gilbert released preliminary sketches of the Hudson River bridge that March; by then, the architect had decided that the span would be a suspension bridge. The sketch accompanied a feasibility report that Ammann and other engineers presented to the Port of New York Authority, which was to operate the bridge. The central span was to be 3,500 feet (1,100 m) long, longer than any other suspension bridge in existence at the time, and 200 feet above mean high water. The bridge would initially carry four lanes of vehicular traffic and sidewalk lanes; the plans called for three additional phases of expansion, culminating in an eight-lane bridge deck with four rapid-transit tracks underneath. The span would be supported by two towers, each 650 feet (200 m) tall. There would also be space to build a second deck in the future below the main deck. Ammann's team also found that the most feasible location for the bridge was at 179th Street in Manhattan (as opposed to 181st or 175th Streets). This was both because the 179th Street location was more aesthetically appealing than the other two locations, and because a 179th Street bridge would be cheaper and shorter in length than a bridge at either of the other streets. At this point in the planning process, the Hudson River bridge's estimated cost was $40 million or $50 million. Because of the proposed bridge's length, engineers also had to test the strength of materials, including suspension cables, that were to be used in the span. Ammann's research department constructed scale models of various designs for the bridge and tested them in wind tunnels.

By late 1926, one engineer predicted that construction on the Hudson River bridge would start the following summer. In December 1926, the final plans for the bridge were approved by the public and by the War Department. The Port Authority planned to sell off $50 million worth of bonds to pay for the bridge, and the initial $20 million bond issue was sold that December. Further issues arose when the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill in March 1927, which increased the New Jersey governor's power to veto Port Authority contracts. Smith, the New York governor, and Silzer, the now-former New Jersey governor who had been appointed Port Authority chairman, both objected to the bill since the Port Authority had been intended as a bi-state venture. Afterward, the then-current New Jersey governor A. Harry Moore worked with legislators to revise the legislation. The revised law was ultimately not a significant deviation from the Port Authority's practice at the time, wherein the Port Authority was already submitting its contracts to New Jersey government for review.

Construction

The George Washington Bridge's construction employed three teams of workers: one each for the New Jersey tower, the New York tower, and the deck. The construction process was relatively safe, although twelve or thirteen workers died during its construction. Of these, three were killed when the foundation for the New Jersey tower flooded; a fourth worker was killed by a blast at the New Jersey anchorage; and the others died because of their own carelessness, according to Port Authority records.

First contracts

In April 1927, the Port Authority opened the first bids for the construction of the Hudson River bridge. It was specifically seeking bids for the construction of the New Jersey suspension tower's foundation. The Manhattan suspension anchorage's location was still undecided at this time. A bid for the New Jersey tower was awarded later that month. In May, the Port Authority opened more bids for the construction of the bridge's approaches and anchorage on the New Jersey side. Dredging operations on the Hudson River, which would allow large ships to pass underneath the bridge, also started that May. By late August, the Port Authority had started condemning plots of land for the bridge's approaches.

Montgomery B. Case, chief construction engineer, began construction on the Hudson River bridge began on September 21, 1927, with groundbreaking ceremonies held at the sites of both future suspension towers. Each tower was to have a base with a perimeter measuring 89 by 98 feet (27 by 30 m), and descending 80 feet into the riverbed. The riverbed around the towers' sites was dredged first, and then steel pilings were placed in the riverbed to create a watertight cofferdam. The cofferdams for the bridge were the largest ever built at the time. In early October of that year, the Port Authority received bids for the construction of the bridge deck. There were two main methods being considered for the span's construction: the cheaper "wire-cable" method and the more expensive "eyebar" method. The wire-cable method, where the vertical suspender wires are attached directly to the main cables and the deck directly, would require a stiffening truss to support the deck. The eyebar method, where the suspender wires are attached to a chain of eyebars (metal bars with holes in them), would be self-supporting. Ultimately, the Port Authority chose the wire-cable design because of costs, and it awarded the contract for constructing the deck to John A. Roebling Sons' Company. The corresponding contract for manufacturing the steel was awarded to the McClintic-Marshall Company [Wikidata]. The first serious accident during the bridge's construction occurred in December 1927, when three men drowned while working in a caisson on the New Jersey side.

Towers and anchorages

Bids for the Manhattan suspension tower were advertised in March 1928. At this point, 64% of the total projected worth of construction contracts had been awarded. The piers that provided foundation for the New Jersey suspension tower and approaches were being constructed. The cliffs on both sides of the river were high enough that only minimal bridge approaches were required on either side. The towers' foundations could reach at most 190 feet (58 m) below mean low water, where the foundations would hit a layer of solid rock. In May 1928, builders started drilling a 50-foot-deep (15 m) cut through the Palisades on the New Jersey side so that the Hudson River bridge approach could be built. By June 1928, half of the money earned during the previous year's $20 million bond sale had been spent on construction. By that October, nearly all blasting operations had been completed. The suspension tower on the New Jersey side had been constructed to a height of 250 feet (76 m), and the tower on the New York side was progressing as well. The suspension towers consisted of 13 segments, each of which were almost 50 feet high.

The New York anchorage required 370,000 short tons (330,000 long tons; 340,000 t) of concrete, being freestanding, while the New Jersey anchorage was blasted into the Palisades. By March 1929, the concrete structure of the New York anchorage had been completed, three months ahead of schedule. The anchorage on the New Jersey side, which had been fully bored, consisted of two holes that had been bored 250 feet into the face of the Palisades. On the New Jersey side, 225,000 cubic yards (172,000 m3) of rock had to be blasted out to make way for the New Jersey approach. The suspension towers were nearly complete at the time of the report; only 100 feet of each tower's height remained to be built. Anchors were being placed in the two holes that were being drilled for the New Jersey anchorage, and this task was also nearing completion.

In April, the Port Authority acquired the last of the properties that were in the path of the bridge's Manhattan approach. Plans for the Manhattan approach were approved by the New York City Board of Estimate around the same time. The approach was to consist of scenic, meandering ramps leading to both Riverside Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the eastern bank of the Hudson River at the bottom of the cliff in Washington Heights. The bridge would also connect to 178th and 179th Streets, at the top of Washington Heights. A third connection would be made to an underground highway running between and parallel to 178th and 179th Streets; this connection would become the 178th–179th Street Tunnels, and would later be replaced by the Trans-Manhattan Expressway. The original plan for the approach to the underground highway stated that the approach would be made using a monumental stone viaduct descending from the span at a 2.2% gradient. The Port Authority started evicting residents in the approach's path in October 1929. The same month, the Port Authority sold the final $30 million in bonds to pay for the bridge.

The plans for the Hudson River bridge's Fort Lee approach were also changed in January 1930. Originally, the bridge would have terminated in a traffic circle, a type of intersection design that was being built around New Jersey during the 1920s and 1930s. However, the revised plans called for a grade-separated highway approach that would connect to a traffic "distributing basin" with ramps to nearby highways. The total cost of land acquisition for the bridge approaches on both sides of the Hudson River exceeded $10 million.

Cable spinning

After the towers were completed, two temporary catwalks were built between the two suspension towers. Then, workers began laying the bridge's four main cables, a series of thick cables that stretch between the tops of the two towers and carry what would later become the upper deck. The first strand of the first main cable was hoisted between both towers in July 1929, in a ceremony attended by the governors of both states and the mayors of New York City and Fort Lee. The two temporary catwalks allowed workers to spin the wires for the main cables on-site. The wires for the cables were spun by dozens of reels at a dock near the base of the New York anchorage; each reel contained 30 miles of wire at any given time. A total of 105,986 wires were used in the bridge when it was completed.

By February 1930, the bridge was halfway complete; since construction was two months ahead of schedule, the bridge was scheduled to open in early 1932. A team of 350 men was spinning the wires for each of the 36-inch-wide (91 cm) main cables, which were 22% complete. In addition, the builders had started ordering steel for the deck. By April, the spinning of the main cables was half complete. The first main cable was completed in late July 1930, and the other three main cables were completed that August, with the laying of the last wire being marked by a ceremony. The spinning of the main cables had taken ten months in total.

After the main cables were laid, workers spun the suspender wires that connected the main cables with the deck. When it was finished, the system of cables would support 90,000 short tons (80,000 long tons) of the deck's weight, though the cables would be strong enough to carry 350,000 short tons (310,000 long tons), four times as much weight. The construction of a lower deck for rail usage was postponed, since the start of the Depression meant that there would not be enough railroad traffic to justify the construction of such a deck in the near future.

Nearing completion

An agreement between the Port of New York Authority and the City of New York, dated July 29, 1930, was formed to convey property and property easements granted in relation to the New York Approach to the then Hudson River Bridge. That month, the Port Authority opened the bidding process for contracts to build the Hudson River bridge's approaches on the New York side. These included contracts for the 178th-179th Street Tunnels and the Riverside Drive connection. The tunnel contracts were awarded later that month. In August, the bidding process for the Fort Lee approaches was opened. Bids for the Riverside Drive connection were received the following month.

Prior to and during construction, the bridge was unofficially known as the "Hudson River Bridge" or "Fort Lee Bridge". The Hudson River Bridge Association started seeking suggestions for the bridge's official name in October 1930. Residents of New York and New Jersey were encouraged to send naming choices to the association, which would then forward the suggestions to the Port Authority. According to ballot voting submitted to the Port Authority, the "Hudson River Bridge" name was the most popular choice. The Port Authority preferred the name "George Washington Memorial Bridge", which had been proposed by a board member, and still others championed the name "Palisades Bridge". However, the Port Authority formally adopted the "George Washington" name on January 13, 1931, honoring the general and future president's evacuation of Manhattan at the bridge's location during the Revolutionary War. This was described as potentially confusing, since there was already a "Washington Bridge" connecting 181st Street with the Bronx, directly across Manhattan from the "George Washington Bridge" across the Hudson River. Shortly afterward, the Port Authority Board of Commissioners voted to reconsider the renaming of the Hudson River Bridge, stating that it was open to alternate names. Hundreds of naming choices had been submitted by this time. The most popular naming choices were those of Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Hudson River namesake Henry Hudson. The span was again officially named for George Washington in April 1931. This decision was applauded by then-congressman Fiorello La Guardia, who felt that other options served to "insult[] the memory of our first President and encourag[e] the Reds".

The system of girders to support the deck were installed throughout 1930, and the last girder was installed in late December 1930. In March 1931, the Port Authority announced that the Hudson River Bridge was set to open later that year, rather than in 1932 as originally planned. At that time, the Port Authority had opened bids for paving the road surface. Later that month, the agency published a report, which stated that the bridge's early opening date was attributable to how quickly and efficiently the various materials had been transported. In June 1931, forty bankers became the first people to cross the bridge.

Work was progressing quickly on the bridge approaches in New Jersey, and the New York City government was considering building another bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx (the Alexander Hamilton Bridge) to connect with the George Washington Bridge. Bids for constructing tollbooths and floodlight towers were opened in July 1931.

Opening and early years

Opening

The George Washington Bridge was dedicated on October 24, 1931, eight months ahead of schedule. The opening ceremony, attended by 30,000 guests, was accompanied by a show from military airplanes, as well as speeches from politicians including New Jersey governor Morgan Foster Larson and New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. The first people to cross the George Washington Bridge were reportedly two elementary school students who roller-skated across the bridge from the New York side. Pedestrians were allowed to walk the length of the George Washington Bridge between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. The bridge was formally opened to traffic the next day. The Port Authority collected tolls for drivers who used the bridge in either direction; as with the Holland Tunnel, the toll was set at 50 cents for passenger cars, with different toll rates for other vehicle types. Pedestrians paid a toll of 10 cents each, which was lowered to 5 cents in 1934. Within the first 24 hours of the George Washington Bridge's official opening, 56,312 cars used the span, as well as 100,000 pedestrians (including those who had walked across after the ceremony). The Port Authority reported that 33,540 pedestrians crossed the bridge on the first day, of which 20,000 paid a toll to cross.

During the George Washington Bridge's construction, the cost of the bridge was estimated at $75 million, and the bridge was expected to carry eight million vehicles and 1.5 million pedestrians in its first year of operation. When the George Washington Bridge opened, it was estimated that eight million vehicles would use the bridge in its first year, and that the bridge could ultimately carry 60 million vehicles annually after a second deck was added. The bridge's final cost was estimated at $60 million. Real-estate speculators believed that the bridge's construction would raise real-estate values in Fort Lee, since the borough's residents would be able to more easily access New York City. During the construction of the George Washington Bridge, speculators spent millions of dollars to buy land around the bridge's New Jersey approach. The bridge was later credited with helping raise land prices and encouraging residential development in formerly agricultural parts of Bergen County. It also spurred the rise of the trucking industry along the United States' East Coast, supplanting much of the freight railroads that used to carry cargo.

In the George Washington Bridge's first week of operation, the bridge carried 116,265 vehicles, compared to the Holland Tunnel's 173,010 vehicles, despite the fact that the tunnel had fewer lanes than the bridge did. During that time span, 56,000 pedestrians used the bridge. A week after the bridge opened, the 10-lane tollbooth was expanded to 14 lanes because of heavy weekend traffic volumes. In its first year of operation, the George Washington Bridge saw 5.5 million vehicular crossings and nearly 500,000 pedestrian crossings. Traffic counts on the George Washington Bridge grew year after year. By the time of the bridge's tenth anniversary in 1941, the span had been used by 72 million vehicles total, including a record 9.1 million vehicles in 1940.

Early modifications

New Jersey Route 4, which connected directly to the bridge's western end, opened in July 1932. The 178th-179th Street Tunnels, which connected Amsterdam Avenue on the eastern side of Manhattan to the bridge's eastern end on the west side of Manhattan, were supposed to be completed in late 1932. Direct approaches to Riverside Drive and the Hudson River Parkway were completed in 1937, and the tunnels were completed in 1938–1939. A ramp eastward from the bridge and southward to the Harlem River Drive was also completed around this time. On the New Jersey side, state highways were also being modernized to handle bridge traffic. The bridge's westbound entrance ramp from Fort Washington Avenue, at the top of the cliff on the Manhattan side, opened in April 1939. The corresponding eastbound exit ramp, as well as the 178th-179th Street Tunnels, opened in June 1940.

Originally, the George Washington Bridge's single deck consisted of six lanes, with an unpaved center median. In 1946, the median was paved over and two more lanes were created on the upper level, widening it from six lanes to eight lanes. The two center lanes on the upper level served as reversible lanes, which could handle traffic in either direction, depending on traffic flows.

The bridge was initially lit by 200 lights to provide warning to pilots flying at night. The Port Authority enacted a photography ban during World War II in the 1940s. Additionally, from May 1942 to May 1945, the lights on the bridge were shut off at night as a precautionary measure. After the war ended, the lights were turned back on, but the photography ban was upheld.

Lower deck

The completion of the George Washington Bridge's lower deck, as well as the construction of a new bus terminal and other highway connections near the bridge, were recommended in a 1955 study that suggested improvements to the New York City area's highway system. The lower deck was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A Bergen County leader voted against the construction of the lower level in 1956, temporarily delaying construction plans. The New York City Planning Commission approved the George Washington Bridge improvement in June 1957, and the Port Authority allocated funds to the improvement that July. The $183 million project included the construction of the lower deck; the George Washington Bridge Expressway, a 12-lane expressway connecting to the Alexander Hamilton Bridge and the Cross Bronx Expressway (later I-95 and US 9); the George Washington Bridge Bus Station above the expressway; and a series of new ramps to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway. On the New Jersey side, two depressed toll plazas, one in each direction, were to be constructed for lower-level traffic. Highway connections were also being built on the New Jersey side, including a direct approach from I-95.

Construction of the approaches started in September 1958. Work on the lower level itself started on June 2, 1959, but work was briefly halted later that year because of a lack of steel. By February 1960, construction was underway on the lower level; the supporting steelwork for the future deck had been completed, and the sections for the lower deck were being installed. The George Washington Bridge's lower deck would comprise 75 steel slabs; each slab weighed 220 tons and measured 108 feet (33 m) wide by 90 feet (27 m) feet long, with a thickness of 130 feet (40 m). The construction of the slabs proceeded from either side of the bridge. The right-of-way for the George Washington Bridge Expressway had been almost entirely cleared except for the ventilation buildings for the 178th-179th Street Tunnels. The segments of the lower deck had been laid completely by September 1960, at which point workers started pouring the concrete for the deck's roadway, a process that took five weeks. The layer of concrete measured 4 inches (10 cm) thick. Finally, the deck was paved over with a 2.5-inch (6.4 cm) layer of asphalt.

New ramps to the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, including from the newly completed I-95, opened in mid-1962. The lower deck was opened to the public on August 29, 1962. The lower level, nicknamed "Martha" after George's wife Martha Washington, increased the capacity of the bridge by 75 percent and simultaneously made the George Washington Bridge the world's only 14-lane suspension bridge. In addition to providing extra capacity, the lower level served to stiffen the bridge in high winds; before the lower deck was constructed, the George Washington Bridge was known to swing up to 30 inches (76 cm). The George Washington Bridge Bus Station and the Alexander Hamilton Bridge both opened on January 18, 1963, thus allowing more traffic to use the George Washington Bridge. In the first year after the lower level's opening, the expanded bridge had carried 44 million vehicles. By comparison, 35.86 million vehicles had crossed the bridge in an 11-month period between September 1, 1961 and July 31, 1962. In addition, traffic congestion at the George Washington Bridge was reduced after the lower level opened, and the Port Authority was able to make repairs to the upper level for the first time in the bridge's history.

Later history

Late 20th century

A fixed median was added to the upper deck in the 1970s. The bridge was carrying 82.8 million vehicles per year by 1980. The George Washington Bridge was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers on October 24, 1981, the 50th anniversary of the bridge's dedication ceremony. The 50th anniversary was also marked with a parade of automobiles. At that point, 1.8 billion vehicles had used the bridge throughout its lifetime.

In 1990, the Port Authority announced a minor rehabilitation for the George Washington Bridge. As part of the project, the supporting structural steel for the upper deck would be replaced, and some ramps would be rebuilt. The ramps on the New York side, connecting with Riverside Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway, were to be reconstructed for $27.6 million after studies in the late 1980s showed deterioration on these ramps. Although the Port Authority had announced the repairs in advance, the start of roadwork in September 1990 caused extensive traffic jams.

Early 21st century

Starting on July 4, 2000, and for subsequent special occasions, each of the George Washington Bridge's suspension towers has been illuminated by 380 light fixtures that highlight the exposed steel structure. On each tower there are a mix of 150 and 1000 watt metal halide lamp fixtures. The architectural lighting design was completed by Domingo Gonzalez Associates.

In 2000, the Port Authority proposed building a ramp from the lower level to the Palisades Interstate Parkway on the New Jersey side. Originally, the ramp would have cost $86.5 million and would have been completed in 2003 or 2004. However, the connection was ultimately not built.

In December 2011, the Port Authority announced plans to repair the bridge. For the first time, the vertical suspender cables would be replaced, at an expected cost of more than $1 billion paid for by toll revenue. On August 5, 2013, repair crews began an $82-million effort to fix cracks in upper-deck structural steel caused by traffic, particularly heavy trucks. The plan called for replacing 632 road deck panels, which would add at least 20 years of service life to the roadway. The work proceeded at night, and was slated to be complete by year's end. However, delays prevented completion and ultimately the work was halted for the winter. Work restarted in June 2014, and was expected to last another 12 weeks.

The Port Authority also started work on some other projects to renovate or replace bridge components. The lower level was repaved in 2016, and repainting work and maintenance platform replacement on the lower deck was completed in 2017. The bridge's 592 suspender ropes, which run vertically between the main suspension cables and the deck, were to be replaced between 2017 and 2023 to fix damage caused by excessive heat and humidity. The staircases leading to the sidewalks on both the northern and southern sides of the upper deck were also being replaced with ramps that were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Trans-Manhattan Expressway was being renovated in conjunction with this project. On the New Jersey side, the Palisades Interstate Parkway cloverleaf ramp onto the eastbound George Washington Bridge would be replaced at a cost of $112.6 million by 2019. Two overpasses near the bridge would also be refurbished by 2022.

Road connections

New Jersey

The George Washington Bridge carries I-95 and US 1/9 between New Jersey and New York. Coming from New Jersey, US 46 terminates at the state border in the middle of the bridge. Further west, I-80, US 9W, New Jersey Route 4, and the New Jersey Turnpike also feed into the bridge via either I-95, U.S. 1/9, or U.S. 46 but end before reaching it. The Palisades Interstate Parkway connects directly to the bridge's upper level, though not to the lower level; however, a ramp to link the Interstate Parkway to the lower level was proposed in 2000. The marginal roads and local streets above the highways are known as GWB Plaza. The bridge's toll plaza, which collects tolls from eastbound traffic only, is located on the New Jersey side.

New York

On the New York side, the 12-lane Trans-Manhattan Expressway heads east across the narrow neck of Upper Manhattan, from the bridge to the Harlem River. It provides access from both decks to 178th and 179th Streets, which cross Manhattan horizontally; the Henry Hudson Parkway and Riverside Drive, on the Hudson River's eastern bank along the west side of Manhattan; and to Amsterdam Avenue and the Harlem River Drive, on the Harlem River's western bank on the east side. The expressway connects directly with the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, which spans the Harlem River as part of the Cross-Bronx Expressway (I-95), providing access to the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87). Heading towards New Jersey, local access to the bridge is available from 179th Street. There are also ramps connecting the bridge to the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, a commuter bus terminal with direct access to the New York City Subway at the 175th Street station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line (served by the A train).

Originally, the approach to the George Washington Bridge from the New York side to the George Washington Bridge consisted of a roundabout encircling a fountain, which was designed by Cass Gilbert. This plan was scrapped after it was deemed to be infeasible, due to the congestion that the weaving movements would create. The final plans called for meandering roadways from Riverside Drive and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the eastern bank of the Hudson River at the bottom of the cliff in Washington Heights. The Henry Hudson Parkway actually passes under the New York side's anchorage using an underpass designed by Gilbert. The connection to the 178th–179th Street Tunnels, which connected to the southbound Harlem River Drive, opened in 1940. The tunnels were replaced by the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, which opened in 1962. The tunnels and expressway were built to minimize disruption to the Washington Heights neighborhood, which had already been developed at the time.

Alternate routes

Further south along the Hudson River, the Lincoln Tunnel (Route 495) and Holland Tunnel (Interstate 78/Route 139) also enter Manhattan. Both tunnels are operated by the Port Authority, which collects tolls from drivers crossing the Hudson River eastbound toward New York City. The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (I-278), connecting the New York City boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn, is the southernmost alternate route. It connects to the Bayonne Bridge, Goethals Bridge, and Outerbridge Crossing between Staten Island and New Jersey. All four bridges to Staten Island collect tolls for drivers driving into the island.[c]

Further north within the New York metropolitan area, the Tappan Zee Bridge (Interstates 87/287 and New York State Thruway) avoids the congested Cross Bronx Expressway and the city proper. Thruway traffic sometimes uses the George Washington Bridge as a detour, since there are no road crossings of the Hudson River between the George Washington and the Tappan Zee Bridges. The Tappan Zee Bridge also charges tolls for eastbound drivers.

Tolls

As of January 5, 2020[update], the cash tolls / tolls by mail rate going from New Jersey to New York are $16 for cars and motorcycles; there is no toll for passenger vehicles going from New York to New Jersey. New Jersey and New York-issued E-ZPass users are charged $11.75 for cars and $10.75 for motorcycles during off-peak hours, and $13.75 for cars and $12.75 for motorcycles during peak hours. Trucks are charged cash tolls of $22.25 per axle, with discounted peak, off-peak, and overnight E-ZPass tolls. A discounted carpool toll ($7.75) is available at all times for cars with three or more passengers using NY or NJ E-ZPass, who proceed through a staffed toll lane (provided they have registered with the free "Carpool Plan"), except if entering from the Palisades Interstate Parkway entrance to the bridge. The Carpool Plan will remain available until the George Washington Bridge implements cashless tolling. There is an off-peak toll of $8.25 for qualified low-emission passenger vehicles, which have received a Green E-ZPass based on registering for the Port Authority Green Pass Discount Plan. All users with E-ZPass issued from agencies outside of New Jersey and New York are charged the cash rate.

Tolls are collected at a series of tollbooths on the New Jersey side. The bridge has 29 toll lanes: 12 in the main upper-level toll plaza, 10 in the lower-level toll plaza, and seven in the Palisades Interstate Parkway toll plaza leading to the upper level. The toll plazas on the lower level and Palisades Parkway are not staffed during the overnight hours and accept only E-ZPass transactions during this period.

Originally, tolls were collected in both directions. The original toll booth was designed by Gilbert, who also designed a classical-style maintenance booth, neither of which is extant. In August 1970, the toll was abolished for westbound drivers, and at the same time, eastbound drivers saw their tolls doubled. The tolls of eleven other New York–New Jersey and Hudson River crossings along a 130-mile (210 km) stretch, from the Outerbridge Crossing in the south to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the north, were also changed to south- or eastbound-only at that time. E-ZPass was accepted for toll payment on the George Washington Bridge starting in July 1997. Soon afterward, the Port Authority proposed removing the tollbooths for the E-ZPass lanes on the lower level and Palisades Parkway toll plazas, replacing them with electronic toll collection gantries to allow motorists to maintain highway speeds.

Pedestrians and cyclists may cross free of charge on the south sidewalk. Pedestrians traveling in either direction originally paid tolls of 10 cents when the bridge opened. The pedestrian toll was reduced to 5 cents in 1935 and discontinued altogether in 1940.

Open road tolling was implemented for drivers going from Palisades Interstate Parkway on February 2, 2020 and to the lower level on November 7, 2020, and will be implemented on both levels by 2022. The tollbooths will be dismantled, and drivers will no longer be able to pay cash at the bridge. Instead, there will be cameras mounted onto new overhead gantries. A vehicle without E-ZPass will have a picture taken of its license plate and a bill for the toll will be mailed to its owner. For E-ZPass users, sensors will detect their transponders wirelessly. In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all-electronic tolling was temporarily placed in effect for all Port Authority crossings, including the George Washington Bridge. Cash toll collection was temporarily reinstated on the upper level only in October 2020, for eighteen months, while the required open road tolling infrastructure was being installed.

Non-motorized access

The George Washington Bridge contains two sidewalks that can be used by pedestrians and bicyclists. The southern sidewalk (accessible by a long, steep ramp on the Manhattan side of the bridge) is shared by cyclists and pedestrians. The entrance in Manhattan is at 178th Street, just west of Cabrini Boulevard, and also has access to the Hudson River Greenway north of the bridge. Both sidewalks are accessible on the New Jersey side from Hudson Terrace. The George Washington Bridge carries New York State Bicycle Route 9, a bike route that runs from New York City north to Rouses Point.

The Port Authority closed the northern sidewalk at all times in 2008. Though it offers direct access into Palisades Interstate Park, the northern sidewalk requires stairway climbs and descents on both sides, which was inaccessible for people with physical disabilities and posed a risk in poor weather conditions. Advocacy groups such as Transportation Alternatives also suggested improvements.

As part of the project to replace the bridge's vertical support cables, the connections to both sidewalks will be enhanced or rebuilt and made ADA-compliant. While the south-side cables are being replaced, that sidewalk will be closed and the north sidewalk will be open. Once the entire project is completed in 2023, pedestrians will use the south sidewalk and cyclists will use the north sidewalk. The sidewalk aspect of the project is expected to cost $118 million.

Incidents

Suicides and deaths

The George Washington Bridge is among the most frequently chosen sites in the New York metropolitan area for committing suicide by jumping or falling off the bridge. The first death by jumping occurred before the bridge even opened, though it was unintentional. On September 21, 1930, a stunt jumper named Norman J. Terry jumped off the bridge's deck in front of a crowd of thousands, but because his body was facing the wrong way, he broke his neck upon hitting the water. The first intentional suicide occurred on November 3, 1931, a little more than one week after the bridge opened.

Several suicide attempts off the George Washington Bridge have been widely publicized. In 1994, a person going by the name "Prince" called The Howard Stern Show while on the bridge, threatening to commit suicide, but Howard Stern managed to talk him out of it. The 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, who had jumped from the bridge, drew national attention to cyberbullying and the struggles facing LGBT youth.

In 2012, a record 18 people threw themselves off the bridge to their deaths, and there were also 43 failed suicide attempts. There were 18 deaths reported in both 2014 and 2015. In 2014, 74 people were stopped by the Port Authority police, while the next year, another 86 people were stopped by the Port Authority police. In 2016, there were 12 reported deaths, a decrease from previous years, while 70 people were stopped by the Port Authority police. In 2017, the Port Authority proposed equipping a two-person Emergency Services Unit team with harnesses to prevent suicides from the bridge. Following 15 reported deaths and 68 attempts in 2017, the Port Authority installed protective netting and an 11-foot-high (3.4 m) fence along each upper level sidewalk. The netting partially overhangs the sidewalks in order to prevent potential jumpers from scaling the fence directly. The southern sidewalk was closed from September to December 2017 so that a temporary fence could be installed there. Once the temporary fence had been erected, the permanent 11-foot-high barrier was constructed on the northern sidewalk, followed by the permanent barrier on the southern sidewalk.

Controversies and protests

From September 9 to 13, 2013, dedicated toll lanes for one of the local Fort Lee entrances to the bridge's upper level were reduced from three to one, with the two other lanes diverted to highway traffic, without notification to local government officials and emergency responders. The closures were performed on orders from aides and appointees of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie causing a political controversy called "Bridgegate". The local toll lane reductions caused massive traffic congestion, with major delays for school transportation and police and emergency service responses within Fort Lee. The repercussions and controversy surrounding these actions have been investigated by the Port Authority, federal prosecutors, and a New Jersey legislature committee.

On September 12, 2020, a hundred anti-police brutality protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement converged from both New York and New Jersey, closing the upper level of the bridge for about an hour before walking to the New York City Police Department's 34th Precinct in Manhattan.

Other incidents

On December 28, 1966, a 19-year-old pilot made an emergency landing on the bridge's New Jersey side after his plane's engine failed. There were no deaths reported, because there was very little traffic at the time, but the pilot and his passenger were injured. At the time, there was no median barrier on the bridge's upper deck.

In June 1977, two tractor-trailers nearly fell off the lower level after jackknifing, then going through both the roadway barrier and a mesh net next to the roadway. One of the drivers was hurt slightly, while the other driver was not hurt. The accident also involved a third tractor-trailer and two passenger cars, none of whose occupants were hurt. Accidents involving trucks dumping their cargo have also occurred on the George Washington Bridge. Watermelons, frozen chicken parts, and horse manure have all fallen onto the bridge's roadway at some point.

The first-ever complete closure of the George Washington Bridge occurred on August 6, 1980, when a truck carrying highly flammable propane gas across the bridge started to leak. As a safety precaution in case the fuel started to ignite, traffic across the bridge was halted for several hours, and 2,000 people living near the bridge were evacuated. Since the George Washington Bridge is the primary crossing between New Jersey and New York City, the closure caused traffic jams that stretched for up to 30 miles (48 km), and the effects of this congestion could be seen more than 45 miles (72 km) away. Two police officers eventually plugged the leak with an inexpensive device. Up to that point, trucks carrying flammable material had been allowed to use the George Washington Bridge. After the incident, New York City officials conducted a study on whether to prohibit hazardous cargo from traveling through the city.

Text imported from Wikipedia article "George Washington Bridge" and modified on 2 March 2021 according to the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

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  • About this
    data sheet
  • Structure-ID
    20000032
  • Published on:
    28/10/1998
  • Last updated on:
    06/10/2019