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Bronx-Whitestone Bridge: Celebrating 75 Years

Bronx-Whitestone Bridge: Celebrating 75 Years

MTA Bridges and Tunnels’ Bronx-Whitestone Bridge will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the bridge’s April 29, 1939 opening with historic exhibits at museums in Queens and the Bronx, and will kick off with a roundtable discussion on the history of the bridge this month.

To kick off the celebration, Bridges and Tunnels Deputy Chief Engineer Aris Stathopoulos and Mary Hedge, administrator of the agency’s Special Archive collection, will participate in a roundtable discussion at the Queens Historical Society on April 13 to discuss the history and design of the bridge.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels will also host three exhibits this year using historical images from the agency’s Special Archive, 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. The first opens June 22 at the Queens Historical Society. Another will open in July at a venue in Queens still to be determined, and a third exhibit will be held this fall at the Bronx Historical Society.

In addition to the exhibits, drivers may notice 4x8-foot banners hung across the Queens and Bronx toll canopies and smaller signs along the bridge’s light poles, heralding its Diamond Jubilee.

Since it opened to traffic on April 29, 1939 – a day before the start of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens – 2.2 billion vehicles have crossed the span. The bridge was built as part of a new, highway network that allowed drivers from upstate New York to get to Queens and Long Island without going through Manhattan and central Queens, and became a key factor in the growth of Long Island after World War II.

The bridge also serves as crucial link in the transportation of goods in the tri-state area. Nearly 109,000 vehicles used the bridge on an average weekday in 2013.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels has spent $737 million in capital improvements on the bridge since 1992 to ensure that it meets modern standards and is in a state of good repair. Among the major Capital projects were the addition of aerodynamic wind fairings in 2004, a new, lighter-weight steel orthotropic deck in 2007, reconstruction and widening of the Bronx approach roadways in 2012, and a similar reconstruction and widening project that is underway on the Queens approach roadways and is scheduled for completion in 2015.

The idea for the bridge began with Robert Moses, who as chairman of the Metropolitan Council on Parks, proposed building it as part of his planned Belt Parkway system. Moses, who would become Chairman of the Triborough Bridge Authority (a pre-cursor to MTA Bridges and Tunnels), envisioned motorists leisurely using the parkway system to make their way through four of the five boroughs. He persuaded the New York State Legislature and ground was broken for the bridge in June 1937. 

Moses wanted the bridge opened in time for the World’s Fair, a mission he accomplished. The bridge was completed in just 23 months. Each of its towers was erected in 18 days and it took just 41 days to construct the bridge’s two cables. Othmar Hermann Ammann was the chief engineer during the building process and Allston Dana was its engineer of design.

In 1939, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s 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.

 

 

Whitestone Bridge under construction in 1938
Whitestone Bridge under construction in 1938
View from Francis Lewis Park. MTA Patrick Cashin. 2008
View from Francis Lewis Park. MTA Patrick Cashin. 2008
Officer Giovanny C Sarav
Officer Giovanny C Saravia (left) and Maintainer Bhadesh K Singh hold anniversary banner
ds Queens. Circa 1938-39
Bridge under construction from the Bronx looking towards Queens. Circa 1938-39