Getting to Staten Island has always been a problem. The island, sitting in the far corner of New York Bay, is much closer to New Jersey than it is to its sister boroughs. The Narrows, the point where Staten Island and Long Island are closest, is still four times longer than any of the creeks separating this part of New York from New Jersey. Thus it was decided in the 1920s that it might be more reasonable to connect New York to New York through New Jersey. The Narrows was also seen as a strategic military site, and the problems involved in crossing it would not be solved for decades to come.

The first bridge connecting Staten Island to anywhere was the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge, built in 1883 and connecting the island to Elizabeth, NJ. However, this only helped the railroad companies. By the end of World War I, the automobile had surged in popularity, and people wanted to drive rather than take the train or boat. And, of course, this included driving to Staten Island.

The Holland Tunnel, then a year into its construction, piqued the interest of the 1921-formed Port Authority. The Authority felt that the tunnel could, when combined with an appropriate bridge, ease travel between Manhattan and Staten Island. In 1923, the New York and New Jersey Bridge and Tunnel Commission (formed to oversee the construction of the Holland Tunnel) asked for two bridges to be built: the first, a combination highway/rail bridge replacing the Arthur Kill rail bridge; and the second, a low-level crossing connecting the island to Perth Amboy to the south. The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce successfully argued that although the Arthur Kill was shallow, a low-level crossing would reduce access to New Jersey's ports. The construction was turned over to the Port Authority, ostensibly as part of a plan to rehabilitate the ports in the area.

Eventually, three bridges were proposed: the Goethals Bridge, a vehicular bridge crossing the Arthur Kill and paralleling the existing rail bridge; the Bayonne Bridge, a joint vehicular/rail bridge crossing the Kill Van Kull, connecting to Bayonne, and intended to provide access to the Holland Tunnel; and the Outerbridge Crossing, a vehicular bridge crossing the Arthur Kill to the south and ending in Perth Amboy.

The two Arthur Kill bridges were the first to be constructed. The War Department approved the plans in 1925, and on September 1st that year both bridges were started. J. A. L. Waddell was placed in charge of the two bridges, and they were built as near-twins of each other. The two bridges opened on the same day, June 29, 1928.

Later that year, and on the same day its sister bridges were started, ground was broken on the northernmost of the three bridges. The Kill Van Kull was an important waterway, and considerations needed to be taken to ensure that ships could still pass while the bridge was being built. A cantilever design was proposed, similar to the other two bridges, but that was deemed too expensive, for this bridge would be nearly twice as long. Othmar Ammann, chief engineer, proposed an arch bridge similar to the Hell Gate bridge built by his mentor ten years previous. This design won out over the also-proposed suspension span: although a suspension bridge would be at least, $500,000 cheaper, the arch would better hold up under the stress that the planned railway line would provide. The bridge would be completed on November 15, 1931, without the railroad tracks.

Although fairly well travelled, the three bridges did not perform financially as well as the Port Authority had planned. Between the Great Depression and the war, and the fact that they connected industrial parts of New Jersey to the least populated borough of New York City, and didn't go anywhere else, the Authority was losing money on the bridges. The Bayonne Bridge, in fact, was so unknown to the residents of Staten Island that it took a 1946 fire in the ferry terminal to make them aware of it. The Authority was given control of the Holland Tunnel in 1931, and issued bonds on its surplus to keep the bridges afloat, but it wasn't until the 1964 opening of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that the bridges earned enough to make them self-sufficient.

BRIDGE FACTS

While the Bayonne Bridge was named after its location, the two Arthur Kill bridges were named after important Port Authority figures to herald their status as the first project completed by the new commission. The Goethals Bridge was named after Major General George W. Goethals, first consulting engineer to the Authority. The Outerbridge Crossing owes its confusing moniker to its namesake, Eugenius Outerbridge, the Authority's first chairman. Fittingly, the Outerbridge Crossing is indeed the "outermost" bridge in New York, residing on the southern tip of the city limits.

The Bayonne, at 1,675', was the longest arch bridge in the world at the time, beating out the Sydney Harbor bridge (opened four months later) by a mere 2'. (This record was eclipsed in 1978 with the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge.) The approaches bring the total length to 8,600'; this was necessitated by the need to allow the 150' clearance under the middle of the bridge. The cantilever Goethals is also 8,600' with approaches included; however, the main span is only 672' (full bridge span of 1,152'). The Outerbridge has a main span of 750', but adds to that length with a truss span on either side of the cantilevered portion, bringing the total length to 2,100' (10,800 with approaches included in.) Both the Goethals and the Outerbridge clear the Arthur Kill by 135'. The Bayonne is 80' wide; the two others are 62'.

The bridges are still run by the Port Authority. The toll is, as of this writing, $6, Staten Island-bound only, with EZ-Pass discounts. The Bayonne and Outerbridge carry Route 440 through Staten Island and into New Jersey; the Goethals allows Interstate 278 to continue from New Jersey into Brooklyn.

The Bayonne and the Goethals both have walkways allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to cross, although the walkways on the Goethals are currently under rehabilitation. The Outerbridge, although the worker's gangplanks were strengthened during a rehabilitiation which ended in 2003, has no pedestrian access, nor are there plans to provide any. The Port Authority also plans to extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Staten Island over the Bayonne, allowing the bridge to finally fulfill its original design.

The Bayonne was crowned the "Most Beautiful Steel Structure of 1931" by the American Institute of Steel Construction. Like the George Washington Bridge, however, the exposed steel skeleton of the bridge was originally a bow to economics rather than aesthetics, since it would have been too expensive to shroud the bridge in granite as was originally proposed. The American Institute of Steel Construction seemingly had nothing to say about the other two bridges, or perhaps simply could not choose between them.

Although the Port Authority recieved permission to build the George Washington Bridge at the same time as the two Arthur Kill bridges, the Authority decided to build the two shorter spans first, to prove that they could undertake successful projects.

SOURCES

http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/bayonne/
http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/goethals/
http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/outerbridge/
http://www.panynj.gov/tbt/gbframe.HTM
http://www.panynj.gov/tbt/ocframe.HTM
http://www.panynj.gov/tbt/bbframe.HTM
http://www.transalt.org/bridges/kill.html
http://www.structurae.net/en/structures/data/str01772.php
http://www.structurae.net/en/structures/data/str00008.php
http://www.structurae.net/en/structures/data/str01771.php

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