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Bayonne Bridge: History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the planning and construction behind the Bayonne Bridge that connects New Jersey to Staten Island in New York. It was the longest steel arch bridge in the world from 1931-1977.

Making Do

Sometimes things do not always go according to plan. Perhaps someone you were depending on at work calls in sick, or maybe the store you were planning on going to is closed for the day. What do you do? Sure, you could call it quits and give up, but when faced with unforeseen circumstances, most people opt for a plan B. Maybe, for example, you offer a different colleague an opportunity to try something new, or maybe you try that new store across town. Essentially, you improvise.

Improvisations do not just occur in our day-to-day lives. In the case of the Bayonne Bridge, different circumstances forced the architects to make different decisions than they had originally planned. The result was one of the greatest architectural feats of early 20th-century America.

Plans and Problems

The Bayonne Bridge was the result of an overall plan by the Port of New York Authority to connect New Jersey to Staten Island. With increased construction of suburban communities in the early 20th century on the New Jersey side, there was a need for more connections between the two communities to ease traffic flow on existing bridges and ferry services.

The Bayonne Bridge was the third of three bridges constructed with this goal in mind. The bridge was planned to be built between Bayonne, New Jersey, and Port Richmond, New York, replacing an existing ferry service between the two points. The route of the ferry service, however, proved difficult for bridge building. Bridge architects generally want to build bridges as a straight line between two points, preferably at right angles to the two shores. But the ferry service from Bayonne to Port Richmond was angled, meaning the bridge needed to be much longer.

Things would get more difficult. A suspension bridge for automobile and pedestrian travel was originally planned, but the designs had to be changed when it was determined the bridge should accommodate the possibility of future rail travel. That left Othmar H. Ammann, the bridge's chief designer, with a few dilemmas.

Since the bridge would have to span one of the busiest seaways on the east coast, Ammann opted for an arch design. The single, arch-shaped truss would be supported by two viaducts at either end and hold up more than a mile of roadway. At the same time, it had to rise high enough to accommodate the tallest ships then cruising along the eastern seaboard.

Construction & Feats

Construction began in September 1928. To accommodate continued shipping along the waterway, the bridge had to be built in sections and without the supports typically used when constructing an arch. In total, the bridge cost $13 million to build but was completed in 1931, months ahead of schedule and under budget.

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