Christina M. Hinke


Published in the Gateway Guide, a travel magazine. (Click on link below to read story)


New Jersey's Greatest Bridges
A passage to history and grand achievements

Winter 2005/2006


by Christina M. Hinke
Cover Story for Gateway Guide

The bridges of New Jersey have long been an inspiration to poets, artists and architects for their beauty and advanced engineering.

Many of the large bridges in the Garden State were built during the period from 1919 to 1936, termed "the golden age of highway building" by historian Bruce Seeley. It was the post-war era, and convenient transportation for goods and people was necessary.

New Jersey is an East Coast hub of transportation, centrally located between New York and Philadelphia, so it was in need of great bridges. And economy was not the only factor in bridge design.

"Economics and utility are not the engineer's only concerns," declared New Jerseyean Othmar H. Ammann, who was the chief engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in 1958. "In fact, an engineer designing a bridge is justified in making a more expensive design for beauty's sake alone. ... Few of us appreciate an eyesore, even if we should save a little money."

Many in New Jersey have the luxury of seeing Ammann's momentous designs and those bridges that reflect his vision.

The state's smaller historic bridges, many dating from the 19th century, also boast interesting features and masonry (see sidebar, below).

George Washington Bridge

One of the most important bridges in the northeast is the George Washington Bridge (GWB) between Fort Lee, N.J. and upper Manhattan. It was the first major bridge to cross the Hudson River, a feat that had perplexed many engineers for more than 100 years. Ammann, an engineer and resident of Boonton, N.J., created a winning design in 1923.

On Oct. 25, 1931, the bridge felt the wheels of its first vehicle cross the 4,760-foot span. It was the world's longest suspension bridge, twice the length of the previous record holder. Today the GWB remains in the top 15 longest suspension bridges in the world. It also carries the greatest volume of vehicles in the world along the 14 lanes of its two decks.

Originally, Ammann wanted to build both the upper and lower decks at the same time, but budgets shrank and the bottom deck did not open until Aug. 29, 1962, increasing the bridge capacity by 75 percent.

The second deck was not the only detail unfinished with Ammann's original design; the towers were to have been covered in stone to reflect the rocky landscape of the Palisades. Had he known budgetary restrictions would impede his vision, Amman would have opted for the lean steel design that eventually became his trademark.

More than just visually stunning, the GWB was an engineering benchmark. The bridge's slender deck spurred advances in steel bridge building, characterized by thinner profiles and lighter construction.

"It made a huge leap in building, designing and funding long-span suspension bridges," says Robie Lange, historian for the National Historic Landmarks Survey of the National Park Service. "The George Washington Bridge is like a thin, delicate-looking ribbon."

The GWB is open to pedestrians and bicyclists, linking the Palisades to Riverside Park in Manhattan. A scenic car or hilly bike ride along Henry Hudson Drive in Fort Lee, N.J., leads to a variety of parks and overlooks to take in one of New Jersey's greatest engineering achievements.

The George Washington Bridge is located in Fort Lee, off N.J. Turnpike Exit 18. It forms part of Interstate Highway 95.

Bayonne Bridge

A steel rainbow in the sky from Bayonne to the Port Richmond area of Staten Island, the Bayonne Bridge was yet another dramatic bridge built by Othmar H. Ammann.

From the day that the suspended roadway opened to traffic on Nov. 15, 1931, until 1977, it was the longest steel arch bridge in the world, spanning 5,780 feet over the Kill van Kull.

Now the third-longest, the Bayonne Bridge was originally expected to become a major thoroughfare, though it currently sees the least amount of traffic of any of the Port Authority's bridges, one-fifteenth of the GWB.

If you look closely at the two parallel, spandrel-braced arches, a web of repeating triangles makes up the structure. There is also a pedestrian walkway alongside the deck to see this landmark up close.

In 1931, it was awarded a "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge" prize by the American Institute for Steel Construction, and 10 years ago it was named a "National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark."

The Bayonne Bridge also played a high-profile role in the recent film version of War of the Worlds, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Just as the GWB's design was unfinished, so was the Bayonne Bridge. Ammann designed the abutments to have ornamental stonework, but again finances were tight and his full design intentions were never brought to life.

"He never got over that," says Darl Rastorfer, author of Six Bridges: The Legend of Othmar H. Ammann.

Even without Ammann's stately abutments, which he thought provided an "aesthetic juxtaposition" to the airy arch, "the Bayonne Bridge is the quintessential statement of the steel arch," says Eric DeLony, former chief of the Historic American Engineering Record of the National Park Service.

The Bayonne Bridge is located in Bayonne, and can be reached by taking N.J. Turnpike Exit 14A to State Highway 440 South.

Other bridges to Staten Island

Southwest of the Bayonne Bridge are the other two Staten Island links - the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing. The twin-like structures were the first bridges constructed by the Port Authority. Both four-lane roadways were built by J.A.L. Waddell, with the consultation of Othmar H. Ammann, and opened on June 29, 1928.

Though the Outerbridge Crossing is the outermost bridge to Staten Island, it was not named for that reason. Rather, it was a namesake to Eugenius H. Outerbridge, the first chairman of the Port Authority.

A spectator can enjoy a great view of the 8,800-foot crossing from Morgan Beach in South Amboy, N.J., where the Great Beds Lighthouse in the Raritan River beams in the foreground.

About nine miles north of the Outerbridge Crossing stands the Goethals Bridge. It is a memorial to Major General George Washington Goethals, builder of the Panama Canal, and the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority.

Linking Elizabeth, N.J. to the Howland Hook area of Staten Island, N.Y., the span clears the murky Arthur Kill strait by 140 feet, allowing ships to flow uninterrupted through the busy passageway. The steely-blue, caterpillar-like truss (support) catches the eye while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are considering a replacement of the bridge.

The Outerbridge Crossing links Perth Amboy, N.J. with the Tottenville section of Staten Island, N.Y. It leads to the N.J. Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway via State Highway 440.

The Goethals Bridge leads to the N.J. Turnpike at Interchange 13, and is accessible to Routes 1& 9.

Pulaski Skyway

The General Casimir Pulaski Memorial Skyway in Newark, known simply as the Pulaski Skyway, was the first "superhighway" in the nation. As a cantilever truss bridge, the Pulaski was an innovator.

Built by engineer Sigvald Johannesson between 1930 and 1932, the skyway achieved a milestone in metal truss technology. Riding 135 feet above the Passaic and Hackensack rivers and the Meadowlands for about 3.5 miles to connect Jersey City and Newark, the black snake-like steel slithers across the sky, never seeming to end. It was the longest and highest in the world.

"The Pulaski Skyway was one of the great achievements," says Charles F. Cummings, historian for the Newark Public Library. "It used to take over one and a half hours to get from Newark to Jersey City; now it takes four minutes."

Four minutes, that is, barring traffic. The four-lane skyway of U.S. Route 1&9 carries 60,000 vehicles on average per day. When traffic halts on the bridge, the memorial plaque can be read to pass the time. The bridge was named for General Casimir Pulaski, a Revolutionary War hero and the "Father of the American Calvary."

The Pulaski Skyway links Routes 1&9 from Newark to Jersey City, and leads directly to the Holland Tunnel connecting to lower Manhattan.

Delaware Memorial Bridge

The world's longest twin suspension bridge is also a major link for the North and South corridor. Othmar H. Ammann was a design consultant, as noticeable in the bridge's sleek towers.

Just 64 years ago, in 1951, the 10,800-foot-long Delaware Memorial Bridge provided the first major Delaware River crossing, linking Pennsville, N.J. to New Castle, Del.

Initially only one bridge was built, but a year after the first vehicle crossed the bridge, the New Jersey Turnpike opened, causing "traffic to shoot through the roof," according to Jim Salmon, public information officer for the Delaware River Bridge Authority. By 1968, the second, almost identical, bridge was completed.

Near the Delaware Memorial Bridge is the Bridge War Memorial. The park-like atmosphere invites the public to visit the memorial, which includes a reflective pool and commemorative statue. The memorial is located off Route 9 on Cherry Lane and is open from dawn to dusk.

The N.J. Turnpike, Route 130 and Interstate 295 lead into the Delaware-bound lanes. Interstate 295 and Routes 9, 13 and 40 provide access to the N.J.-bound lanes.


Historic bridges

Size isn't everything, as these quaint, historic bridges around the state prove.

Green Sergeant's Bridge (1872)

Green Sergeant's is a rare old covered bridge. Its whitewashed wooden exterior crosses Wickecheoke Creek in Delaware Township, between Sergeantsville and Rosemont, in Hunterdon County. It's a beauty, situated in a lush rural area, and makes for a lovely landmark to view while bike-riding or taking a drive.

Only 70 early cast and wrought iron metal truss bridges survive today, according to Eric DeLony, former chief of the Historic American Engineering Record.

West Main Street Bridge (1870)

This bridge crosses the South Branch Raritan River in Clinton. The lovely ivory-colored, double-span iron bedstead Pratt pony truss receives much attention from the quaint town, as they light it up at night and hang flower baskets off the side.

School Street Bridge (1870)

Spruce Run Creek runs below this iron Pratt pony truss bridge in Glen Gardner, N.J. As you might guess, it links to the street that leads to the elementary school.

New Hampton Bridge (1868)

Built in Hampton after the Civil War, this single-span pony Pratt truss bridge spans the Musconetcong River. "One could probably count the number of 18th-century stone-arch bridges on one hand," acknowledges DeLony. The oldest in New Jersey is found in Mercer County.

Dingmans Ferry Bridge (1900)

One of the last privately owned bridges of its kind in the country, this bridge is actually the fourth bridge built at its location spanning the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Stony Brook Bridge (1792)

Built after the Revolution, this bridge is part of the Princeton Battlefield National Historic Landmark District for its connection to the Battles of Trenton. The double masonry arch passes over Stony Brook, a popular fishing spot, to carry State Highway 206. Today, the bridge is threatened by tractor-trailers, and preservationists are fighting state-proposed changes. Drive down the one-way section of Quaker Road and pull off to the side to see this old master of stone-arch bridges. - CMH

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