Thursday, July 25, 2024


New York is loved by many for its bustling Times Square, Bronx’s noisy Yankee Stadium, the shady alleys of Central Park and the hot beaches of Staten Island and Brighton Beach. However, there are some places that are less well known but just as picturesque, cozy and attractive. Perhaps, they are not interesting for tourists, but locals love them so much. For example, the City Island Bridge, which connects the Bronx and City Island. Its history is clear, but its future is hard to foresee. In 2015, the bridge was replaced with another, newer one. Nevertheless, the history of this once-innovative construction is worth learning about and you can do it at

The original bridge

According to, the bridge connecting Rodman’s Neck on the mainland and the fishing neighborhood of City Island was built in 1901. Plans to build such a bridge had existed for a long time, perhaps, even since the American Revolutionary War. They were implemented long before the construction of the bridge under our discussion. However, the date when that wooden toll drawbridge was opened isn’t exactly unknown (perhaps in 1873 or 1857). It was located to the north of the new bridge, which was functioning during 1901–2015.

The new bridge connecting the Bronx and City Island

The second bridge was built at the end of the 19th century. It preserved the previous name and went down in history because it was innovative, served for more than 100 years and gave rise to numerous disputes, discussions, and contradictions between the public and the city authorities. Its construction began in 1898 and was completed, as you probably guessed, in 1901. It cost $200,000 and was made of stone and steel. The 950 feet-long bridge consisted of 5 fixed spans and a central swinging section. 

In the 60s, the bridge was reconstructed, its swinging section was immobilized and it turned into a fixed bridge span. Later in 1978-1979, renovation of the supports took place too and, as a result, they were strengthened to last longer.

In 2002, the city authorities and local residents noticed that the bridge’s technical condition deteriorated significantly. However, while locals wanted the bridge to undergo reconstruction, the city authorities decided that it would be better to build a new bridge, which gave rise to the discussions. The city authorities pointed to corrosion on the supports and offered 4 options for solving the bridge problem, namely rebuilding the main span, construction of a conventional, four-pillar causeway-style bridge, an arched bridge or a cable-stayed bridge with a 425-foot-tall tower. The cost of the latter was $28 million and could be built in 3 years.

The fight for the bridge

That situation rightly caused indignation among local residents. They wanted to preserve the old bridge, as their island neighborhood attracted tourists with its historical buildings, traditions and entertainment. The city administration insisted on a cable-stayed bridge, which was considered trendy at the beginning of the 21st century. A similar bridge received a presidential award for design from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988 and that’s why officials promoted that project. However, locals didn’t want such a fashionable and pompous bridge. The City Island resident, Jane Protzman, said that she opposed the idea of building a bridge that will last 50 or 60 years and wanted to preserve the old one. In general, at public meetings, residents preferred repairing the old bridge or building a new but similar one. The representatives of a community group that advocated public opinion organized the bridge’s 101st birthday to rally for its preservation. They hung a banner with its picture, a local theater troupe dressed in old costumes, and sold several hundred T-shirts saying “City Island Bridge, 1901-???”.

The new bridge

Debates about the new bridge and the reconstruction of the old one lasted for several years. In the end, it was decided to build a new one, and then dismantle the old one. They were planned to be placed next to each other. The new bridge would feature a 3 lane roadway as well as a bike and a pedestrian path. It would be 150 feet wide, which is 17 feet wider than the old one, and 12 feet high above the water surface.

Initially, construction was supposed to start in 2007, but the project was postponed until 2012. Meanwhile, in 2010, the old one underwent reconstruction, which involved the replacement of piers, western support and flooring. In 2013, the Tutor Perini building company was chosen as the contractor for the new bridge construction. Over the years, its cost has also changed from $50 million in 2005 to $120 million in 2009. In total, it amounted to $102.7 million at the beginning of construction.

However, the local residents got dissatisfied again. They didn’t like the bridge’s tall tower and filed a lawsuit against the city. The court ruled that the city should hold public hearings. In May 2014, it was decided that the original project of the bridge should be canceled and a cheaper and shorter bridge should be built instead.

The testing phase

In 2015, a temporary steel bridge was constructed, but after a while, it collapsed, halting the process. In December 2015, the temporary bridge was tested with various heavy vehicles, such as fire engines. The authorities also did everything possible to reassure local residents of the safety of the new construction. On December 18, the old bridge was closed and the temporary one served as the only way for the river transition. Then the old bridge was demolished and a new one was built instead on October 29, 2017.

To sum up, the old City Island Bridge was constructed in 1901. It was a great necessity because, before, the neighborhood residents were forced to spend more time commuting to offices and then back home by boats and other means. It has served for more than a century. Over time, the old bridge began to deteriorate. Could the local authorities responsible for the bridge prevent that? Maybe, yes, but it also could be the banal metal fatigue due to such a long-lasting water impact. Nevertheless, today, the neighborhood and the city, in general, have a new bridge. Its construction caused numerous discussions among local residents and representatives of the authorities. While ordinary people sought to have an unpretentious little bridge that would resist the creeping city development, the disappearance of local authentic traditions and the invasion of annoying crowds of tourists, the officials wanted a modern, typical bridge that would be safe and allow New Yorkers to travel faster. Taking into account all the events that happened to the Bronx’s bridge, we should be glad that humanity has learned how to build such kind of constructions, owing to which we have become more mobile and live a safer and fuller life.

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