Clearing the Cross Bay Bridge
The New York City Parkway Authority built the Cross Bay Bridge between Big Egg Marsh in Jamaica Bay and the Rockaway Peninsula in 1939.
The bridge was a six-lane, low-level bascule bridge. Bascule is the French word for see-saw, and that’s exactly how a bascule bridge operates; as the bridge swings upward a counterweight, either in the deck or in an overhead balance frame, keeps it balanced.
The Cross Bay Bridge came under the umbrella of crossings owned by the Triborough Bridge Authority in 1940 after the New York City Parkway Authority was consolidated into TBA.
When a bridge lift was completed the maximum clearance was 20 feet, allowing only small boats to pass underneath. By the late 1960s, marine traffic had increased so much that the bridge was being raised more than 7,000 times annually, much to the consternation of drivers stuck in traffic each time a lift occurred.
To relieve the problem, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (renamed after the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel were added, and now called MTA Bridges and Tunnels) built a new Cross Bay Bridge in 1970, which is a fixed bridge with a 55-foot clearance.
The new bridge was constructed next to the old bridge, which was then demolished. The new Cross Bay Bridge, which celebrates 43 years this month, officially opened to traffic May 28, 1970. The bridge was formally renamed the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge at a Memorial Day ceremony on May 27, 1974.
The photograph of the 1939 bridge, taken not long after its completion, shows the small boat Jovial passing underneath the bascule span. The photo of the 1970 bridge, which was used on the cover of its opening day brochure, shows the much larger sludge boat Bowery Bay passing underneath its fixed span.
Both images are part of MTA Bridges and Tunnels’ Special Archive collection, which has one of the most extensive visual records of Depression-era public works in the country with 100,000 photos, 40,000 drawings, 50 scale models, and 40,000 feet of film footage.