Completed in 1970, the fixed high-level Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge replaces a drawbridge that tied up traffic in the Rockaways and in the community of Broad Channel. This photo was taken in 1998. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
THE ORIGINAL SPAN: As part of his plan to improve the Rockaways, Robert Moses proposed a boulevard from Howard Beach, Queens to the center of the Rockaway Peninsula. Part of this project included the construction of the Cross Bay Parkway Bridge, a bascule span between the island community of Broad Channel and the Rockaways.
The new Cross Bay Parkway Bridge was to replace a rickety two-lane concrete trestle that was constructed in the years after World War I. Fishermen often parked their cars on the traffic lanes of the old bridge, causing a bottleneck for motorists.
Like the Marine Parkway Bridge plan, the Cross Bay Parkway Bridge plan ran into opposition. Instead of developing Jamaica Bay as a residential and recreational area, some officials wanted to turn the area as an industrial port. In 1936, the New York City Parkway Authority was authorized to construct the Cross Bay Parkway Bridge, as well as boardwalk and beach improvements at Rockaway Beach. This new authority, which was headed by Moses, also oversaw the construction of the Marine Parkway Bridge nearly four miles to the west.
The original four-lane drawbridge over Beach Channel was completed in 1939, and a 15-cent toll was charged on the new bridge. During 1940, its first full year of operation, the Cross Bay Parkway Bridge carried approximately 10,000 vehicles per day. That year, the New York City Parkway Authority was absorbed into Moses' Triborough Bridge Authority.
THE MAKING OF A POWER STRUGGLE: On July 11, 1966, at the thirtieth anniversary celebration for the Triborough Bridge, Moses announced plans for a new Cross Bay Parkway span. From Robert A. Caro's The Power Broker:
In his speech, Moses effectively disposed of the surpluses Lindsay was always talking about, announcing that he had "committed" $40,000,000 in Authority funds for improvements to Authority-owned bridges (no city approval needed), such as a new toll plaza for the Triborough and a complete reconstruction of the Cross Bay… The ceremony was turned into a demonstration by the city's two rump governments (the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Port of New York Authority) that they were planning to proceed in the future as they had in the past - without being bound by the wishes of City Hall.
Immediately after the speech, Mayor John Lindsay removed Moses from his post as arterial highways representative. Moses' position at the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which was outside the jurisdiction of city government, was safe for the time being.
Construction of the new Cross Bay Parkway Bridge began later in 1966, when Moses still headed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA). Although he was forced out of his leadership post when the TBTA merged into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on March 1, 1968, Moses continued to direct projects already underway when he was Chairman.
THE NEW SPAN: Before construction began on the new Cross Bay Parkway Bridge, traffic had been backed up for miles along Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel, and even as far north as Howard Beach, whenever the drawbridge opened. Bridge openings also tied up traffic in the Rockaways.
The new 3,000-foot long Cross Bay Parkway Bridge featured a gentle arch that provided a permanent, 55-foot clearance for water traffic. The 275-foot center span provided a 200-foot channel for shipping. On each shoulder, ten-foot sidewalks were provided for pedestrians and fishermen. The six-lane fixed-span bridge cost $26 million, which was financed by the TBTA.
On May 28, 1970, the new high-level Cross Bay Parkway Bridge was opened to traffic. At one of his last dedication ceremonies, Moses said the following:
We rebuilt the old Cross Bay causeway and in the process entirely wiped out a seaside Rockaway slum, restored the beach and boardwalk, flanked it with an ocean boulevard and charged the cost to an authority to be amortized out of tolls, evidence that we were paying attention to ecology and environment long before the present Daniels had come to judgment. We hear much today of transplanting hearts. What we need most is transplanting backbones.
The span, which was renamed the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1977, today carries approximately 20,000 vehicles per day (AADT). The crossing features the only intra-borough toll in New York City.
In 1997, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced the elimination of the toll on the Cross-Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge for EZ-Pass customers who are residents of the Rockaways and the island community of Broad Channel. Residents of these communities are reimbursed for tolls paid through EZ-Pass. State lawmakers also pushed legislation to extend this toll reimbursement to all motorists using EZ-Pass, not just to residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel.
A MAJOR OVERHAUL: Work began in July 2007 to replace 3,000 feet of asphalt pavement on the main span, rehabilitate the steel superstructure, replace the ramps connecting to Beach Channel Drive, provide new concrete barriers and railings, and install new signs. Two lanes in each direction will be kept open at all times, and work will be scheduled such that all ramp closures to Beach Channel Drive will take place during the off-peak travel period between Labor Day and Memorial Day. The $57 million project is scheduled for completion in 2010.
The original Cross Bay Parkway Bridge, which opened in 1939. This bridge was replaced with a fixed high-level bridge in 1970. (Photo by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)
Type of bridge: Construction started (new bridge): Opened to traffic: Length of main span: Total length of bridge: Number of traffic lanes: Clearance above mean high water: Reinforcing steel: Concrete used in substructure: Concrete used in cast-in-place piles: Concrete used in pre-stressed piles: Concrete used in pre-stressed girders: Cost of new structure:
SOURCES: "Cross Bay Parkway Bridge Is Dedicated" by Farnsworth Fowle, The New York Times (5/29/1970); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); The Bridges of New York by Sharon Reier, Quadrant Press (1977); "Mayor Announces Elimination of Cross Bay Toll," New York City Office of the Mayor (10/01/1997); MTA Bridges and Tunnels Facilities, MTA Bridges and Tunnels (2000); "On the Cross Bay Bridge, Crossed Swords Over the Toll" by Jeff Vandam, The New York Times (6/12/2005); "Work To Start on Cross Bay Bridge" by Warren Woodberry, Jr., New York Daily News (7/10/2007); New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; Ralph Herman; Nathan W. Perry; Jeff Saltzman.
Cross Bay Bridge shield by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Jeff Saltzman.