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Bronx-Whitestone Celebrates 73 Years Of Service

On April 29, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge turns 73 years old.

Opening day was carefully planned by Master builder Robert Moses to be a day before the start of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. Touted as the fair's gateway from the north, the bridge was as modern as any of the exhibits at the fair and more than seven decades later, remains a vital link in the city's transportation network, carrying nearly 38 million vehicles in 2011.

The Bronx-Whitestone was the first to allow motorists to travel directly between Long Island and the mainland without passing through Manhattan or central Queens, making it an important factor in the growth of Long Island as a suburban community.

The bridge was built in just twenty-three months. Each of its towers was erected in 18 days. It took just 41 calendar days to construct the bridge's two cables from 14,800 miles of pencil-thin wire. In 1939, its 2,300-foot main suspension span was the fourth longest in the world, surpassed in length only by the Golden Gate and Transbay Bridges in San Francisco and the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey.

Othmar Hermann Ammann was the Bronx-Whitestone's chief engineer and Allston Dana was its engineer of design. These two men had also been responsible for the TBA's design of the Triborough Bridge and the design of the George Washington Bridge, operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

At the bridge's opening ceremony, held near its Bronx plaza, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia described its towers as symbols of efficiency in municipal government and the democratic way of life. TBA Chairman Robert Moses also spoke, calling it "architecturally the finest suspension bridge of them all, without comparison in cleanliness and simplicity of design, in lightness and the absence of pretentious ornamentation."

Over the years, the bridge's aerodynamic stability has been improved. In 1940, four pairs of diagonal stay cables were installed between the top of each tower and the roadway. Five years later, stiffening trusses were placed along the edges of the roadway deck. As part of that project, the original walkway was removed and the roadway was widened from four to six traffic lanes. In 1986, a tuned mass damper, which operates like a set of counterweights to keep the roadway from fluctuating in high winds, was added to the span for even more stability.

In 2003 and 2004, the trusses were removed and replaced with V-shaped aerodynamic fairings made of fiber-reinforced plastic attached to the solid plate girders on the sides of the deck. This project also restored the original sleek profile of the bridge. In 2007, the concrete roadway deck was replaced with a much lighter steel orthotropic deck with an aggregate roadway surface, further lightening the roadway load.

The current big project on the bridge is the replacement of its Bronx approach, including the deck, foundations and piers. That work is scheduled for completion at the end of 2012 as the same work on the Queens approach gets underway.

Bronx-Whitestone Celebrates 73 Years Of Service

BW1: The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge from Queens.. Photographer: Rodney McCay Morgan. Circa 1941.

Bronx-Whitestone Celebrates 73 Years Of Service

BW2: Bronx-Whitestone Bridge under construction in 1939.

Bronx-Whitestone Celebrates 73 Years Of Service

BW3: View of the bridge under construction from the Bronx looking towards Queens. To the left is what is now the Hutchinson River Parkway approach to the bridge and in the bottom center is the school is the New York School for the Deaf. Old Ferry Point is to the right of the newly constructed bridge tower. Circa 1938-39.

Bronx-Whitestone Celebrates 73 Years Of Service

BW4: Bronx-Whitestone Bridge at sunset. View from Francis Lewis Park in Queens. Photographer: Patrick Cashin. MTA. 2008.