12 Long-Spanning Facts About the George Washington Bridge
Connecting New Jersey and Manhattan, the George Washington Bridge remains one of the longest suspension bridges in the United States and is responsible for transporting millions of people into and out of New York every year. Here are 12 facts you might not know about the bridge that spans the Hudson River.
1. THE BRIDGE LINKS TWO HISTORY MILITARY SITES
Prior to the famous crossing of the Delaware River in December 1776, George Washington and his Continental Army suffered a defeat at the Battle of White Plains that isolated them from Manhattan’s Fort Washington, which soon fell to the British. Across the Hudson was Fort Lee, which fell just four days later, forcing George Washington to retreat into Pennsylvania before his surprise attack on the day after Christmas.
2. A SWISS ENGINEER RE-DESIGNED THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, formed in 1921, began construction on the massive bridge in October 1927. But plans for a structure to span the Hudson River had been in development for almost 40 years until Othmarr Ammann, born and educated in Switzerland, came up with the final design. Once an assistant to Austrian-born engineer Gustav Lindenthal, Ammann’s plans were much less grandiose than his former boss's and much less expensive (Lindenthal’s idea would have cost $200 million). Ammann, who became the bridge engineer for the Port Authority, designed the bridge for car traffic instead of trains. Ammann eventually designed several bridges in the New York area, including the Bayonne, the Triborough, the Bronx-Whitestone, and the Verrazano-Narrows.
3. FOUR STEEL CABLES FORM THE CORE OF THE BRIDGE'S DESIGN.
Ammann came up with a plan that included a pair of 570-foot steel towers, horizontal steel plate girders, a 260,000-ton concrete anchorage on the New York side, and drilling directly into the rock for the New Jersey anchorage. But the main support for the roadway comes from the four cables, each consisting of individual strands of steel strung across the river 61 times, each time embedding in the anchorage before looping back. The total length of the steel strands was 107,000 miles, and from them hang steel suspenders that connected to the roadway.
4. FDR OPENED THE BRIDGE WELL AHEAD OF SCHEDULE.
Franklin Roosevelt served as governor of New York from 1929 to 1932, and on October 24, 1931, he and New Jersey governor Morgan F. Larson presided over the dedication ceremony that opened the bridge to the public. “The great prosperity of the Holland Tunnel and the financial success of other bridges recently opened in this region have proven that not even the hardest times can lessen the tremendous volume of trade and traffic in the greatest of port districts,” he told the crowd that day about the bridge, which opened eight months ahead of its original finish date and at a cost of $59 million ($1 million under budget).
5. PEOPLE DIDN'T LIKE THE NAME.
Although the bridge was originally intended to be called the Hudson River Bridge, the Port Authority announced Washington would have his name attached to the project despite there being 25 other bridges in America named after the first U.S. President. There was an outcry, and voting was held to determine a different name, with options like the Palisades Bridge, Knickerbocker Bridge, Interstate Bridge, and even the Charles Lindbergh Bridge favored over "George Washington." But the bridge-naming committee stuck with George Washington and, according to the New York Times, “declined to make public the nature of its decision.”
6. IT WAS ONCE THE WORLD'S LONGEST BRIDGE .
With a main span of 3500 feet, the George Washington Bridge overtook Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge in 1931 as the longest suspension bridge in the world, beating it by 1650 feet. Its title lasted until 1937, when the Golden Gate Bridge opened in San Francisco.
7. THE BRIDGE ORIGINALLY CARRIED SIX LANES OF TRAFFIC.
Just a year after the opening of the bridge, 5.5 million vehicles had crossed the bridge’s six lanes. By 1946, the Port Authority decided to utilize the center lanes, which had been left unpaved for future use as either vehicle lanes or a light rail line, and opened them to improve the flow of traffic.
8. A SECOND DECK WAS ADDED IN THE 1960s.
As traffic increased on the bridge, engineers began work on a second deck in 1958. Built beneath the original deck for $20 million, the lower deck has a 15-foot clearance from the upper lanes and required 76 steel support sections and stiffening trusses to accommodate the additional weight. The deck carries six lanes and brought the total number of traffic roadways to 14.
9. IT IS STILL THE WORLD'S BUSIEST BRIDGE.
About 108 million vehicles drive across the George Washington Bridge each year, making it the most heavily trafficked motor vehicle bridge in the world. Other busy bridges include the Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge) in West Bengal, India; the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge; the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey; and the Kingston Bridge in Glasgow, Scotland.
10. THE BRIDGE IS AN ENGINEERING LANDMARK.
The American Society of Civil Engineers deemed the George Washington a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark on the 50th anniversary of its opening. Once called “the most beautiful bridge in the world” by French architect Le Corbusier, the bridge was also voted as the one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the New York Metropolitan Area in 1953, and inspired composer William Schuman’s 1950 composition “George Washington Bridge.”
11. TOLL COSTS HAVE RISEN EVERY YEAR SINCE 2011.
To reach Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge originally cost drivers a $.50 toll. That number rose to $1.50 by 1975, but the costs have grown especially higher since a toll hike by the Port Authority in 2011. Cars and motorcycles paying cash drop $15, while truckers can pay $126. The tolls, however, only apply to eastbound traffic; traveling into New Jersey is free.
12. THE BRIDGE WAS THE SITE OF A POLITICAL GRUDGE FEST
For four days in September 2013, two out of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge that originated from Fort Lee, New Jersey were closed without warning. The closings began on the first day of school and led to massive traffic congestion just two days before the anniversary of September 11 on the world’s busiest bridge. Emails later released showed aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered the lanes closed, allegedly in retaliation for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s refusal to endorse Christie’s election bid. Investigations were undertaken by New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Port Authority, the State Assembly, and the State Senate. Port Authority Chairman David Samson resigned, Christie aides Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly were charged with nine federal counts, and David Wildstein, director of interstate projects for the Port Authority, pled guilty to multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud.