PROVIDING A HIGHWAY BRIDGE OVER THE HARLEM RIVER: When the Highbridge Interchange connecting the Washington (Heights) Bridge with the George Washington Bridge (via the old 178th Street and 179th Street tunnels) opened in 1952, Robert Moses, the New York City arterial coordinator, anticipated that it would not be long before a parallel span had to be constructed alongside the Washington Bridge. He said the following when the project was completed:

The New York State Department of Public Works (NYSDPW) is currently constructing the Cross Bronx Expressway, which includes the magnificent old Washington Bridge across the Harlem River. This bridge was widened and repaved, and a center divider was installed. It will before long have to be doubled in capacity by virtually adding another bridge next to it.

In his 1955 report
Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, Moses determined that the Washington Bridge would not be able handle the anticipated traffic demands from the then-proposed lower level of the George Washington Bridge. He proposed a new eight-lane arch span - the Alexander Hamilton Bridge - directly south of the existing Washington Bridge. The bridge was to link to two other new expressways proposed by Moses: the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Trans-Manhattan Expressway.

As part of the Interstate highway system signed into law in 1956 - the new bridge was to carry the I-95 designation - the Federal government covered 90 percent of the bridge's $21 million cost. (The bridge itself cost $7.5 million to construct; the remainder was allocated for the interchanges.) Plans for the bridge and its interchanges had been finalized by 1958.

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Because of the relatively deep and narrow valley that surrounds the Harlem River, the large arch design was particularly well suited to the site. The single main arch of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge is 555 feet long, exceeding that of the parallel Washington Bridge by 45 feet.

The main steel arch, which has a clearance of 135 feet above mean high water, is actually made up of two parallel arches that carry the traffic loads to the concrete foundations. Unlike the multi-ribbed, artistically sensitive plate girder arches of the Washington Bridge, the plate girder arches of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge reflect the streamlined standards of the postwar era. On the Manhattan and Bronx approaches, concrete-and-steel-girder viaducts flank the main arch span. In addition, the design included two elaborate highway interchanges that connect the bridge with the Harlem River Drive and the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) more than 100 feet below.

Construction of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge began in early 1960. In the spring of 1962, the two parallel arches comprising the main span were joined high above the Harlem River. The new bridge opened to traffic on January 15, 1963, the same day that the controversial Cross Bronx Expressway was completed. However, the interchange ramps between the bridge and the Major Deegan Expressway did not open until 1964. Ernest Clark, who designed the Cross Bronx Expressway under Moses, described this interchange as "concrete spaghetti… the word 'interchange' does not begin to adequately describe the construction in this area."

THE BRIDGE TODAY: The eight-lane Alexander Hamilton Bridge (which narrows to six lanes east of the Major Deegan Expressway ramps) currently carries approximately 175,000 vehicles per day (AADT) across the Harlem River. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), which maintains the bridge, recently undertook a project to provide redundancy for the girder systems.

POSSIBLE EXPANSION EYED: Among several options being considered for the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in the NYSDOT "Bronx Arterial Needs Major Investment Study," one option calls for reconstruction and expansion of the bridge. The existing congestion on the bridge is further exacerbated by truck traffic merging across several lanes from the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) to the roadway leading to the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge; trucks have been prohibited from the lower deck of the George Washington Bridge since September 11, 2001.

An expansion of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge may be undertaken in conjunction with rebuilt interchanges at EXIT 1B (Harlem River Drive) and EXITS 1C-1D (I-87 / Major Deegan Expressway). Under this plan, traffic bound for EXIT 1A (NY 9A / Henry Hudson Parkway) would be diverted to the nearby Washington (Heights) Bridge. No timetables have been set for either design work or construction.

The two parallel arches comprising the main span of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge are connected in this early 1962 photo. (Photo by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)

Type of bridge:
Construction started:
Opened to traffic:
Length of main arch:
Total length of bridge and approaches:
Height at center above mean high water:
Arch clearance at center above mean high water:
Width of roadway:
Number of traffic lanes:
Cost of original structure:

February 15, 1960
January 15, 1963
555 feet
2,375 feet
151 feet, 6 inches
135 feet
96 feet
8 lanes

EXPEDITE RECONSTRUCTION: The NYSDOT and the Port Authority should expedite the reconstruction of the Trans-Manhattan Expressway / Alexander Hamilton Bridge (I-95 and US 1) corridor. Ramps connecting to the corridor should be rebuilt in order to improve safety and minimize congestion.

SOURCES: "George Washington Bridge Approach and Highbridge Expressway Interchange," The Port of New York Authority, New York State Department of Public Works and New York City Construction Coordinator (1952); Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, The Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1955); "Cross Bronx Road Gets Revised Plan" by Joseph C. Ingraham, The New York Times (11/27/1958); "Cross Bronx Expressway, Alexander Hamilton Bridge and George Washington Bridge Bus Station," Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1963); "Ramps Emerging into Interchange," The New York Times (2/16/1964); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); "A Guide to Civil Engineering Projects in and Around New York City," American Society of Civil Engineers (1997); "Rx for Clogged Arteries" by Sy Oshinsky, Car and Travel (Automobile Club of New York) (March 2003); New York State Department of Transportation; Dave Block; Ralph Herman; Christof Spieler.

  • I-95 and US 1 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Jeff Saltzman.




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