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This 2001 photo shows the Goethals Bridge in the background, side-by-side with the Arthur Kill Railroad Bridge in the foreground. (Photo by Tom Scannello.)

FROM ELIZABETH TO HOWLAND HOOK: Since 1868, bills to secure a bridge, or a series of bridges between Staten Island and New Jersey had been introduced in the New York and New Jersey state legislatures. The 1890 construction of the Arthur Kill railroad bridge, near the current site of the Goethals Bridge, extended the industrial growth of the Newark-Elizabeth area into the Howland Hook section of Staten Island. However, the bridge exclusively served freight traffic. Three ferries, all of which were being taxed beyond their capacities, served passenger traffic between Staten Island and New Jersey.

New solutions were sought to deal with the surging demand in automobile and truck travel after World War I. In 1923, the New York and New Jersey Bridge and Tunnel Commission issued a report calling for the reconstruction of a combination highway and railroad bridge between Staten Island and Elizabeth to replace the existing railroad swing bridge. The report also called for the construction of a highway bridge between Staten Island and Perth Amboy.

Since the channel was shallow, and a low-level bridge was thought to be the solution, the cost was expected to be low. However, the New Jersey State Board of Commerce attacked the idea of building a low-level bridge, and instead advocated constructing a bridge with a 135-foot clearance to insure the viability of New Jersey ports. The two state legislatures acceded to this demand, and assigned construction of the bridge to a new bi-state agency: the Port of New York Authority. The bridge proposal was to be part of an integral port improvement.

When asked years later why the Port Authority began with the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing, general counsel Julius Henry Cohen responded as follows:

We wanted to begin with something where we were most likely to succeed, and the smaller enterprise was the better one for the purpose. If we succeeded, the George Washington Bridge would surely come later. And so it did.

During the spring of 1924, the state legislatures of New York and New Jersey authorized construction of the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing, and allocated $3 million for preliminary design and engineering studies. Despite contentions from shipping interests that the bridge would block water traffic on Arthur Kill, the War Department approved the plans during the spring of 1925. Soon thereafter, the Port Authority sold $14 million worth of bonds for the two bridges.

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: The Port Authority tapped John Alexander Waddell, an American engineer with experience designing structures around the world, to design the Goethals Bridge and its twin to the south, the Outerbridge Crossing. The Goethals Bridge is a shorter version of the steel-truss cantilever Outerbridge Crossing, with a 672-foot-long suspended center span and two 240-foot-long side spans. The piers were sunk 50 feet below the bottom of the channel. Long viaducts, comprised of steel girders set atop arched concrete piers, carry the roadway to its mid-span height of 135 feet above Arthur Kill. From end to end, the bridge measures 8,600 feet in length.

The design of the Goethals Bridge was modified from the original 1923 design to handle vehicular traffic exclusively. In addition to carrying four vehicular lanes, the bridge was designed with a walkway for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

The Goethals Bridge opened to traffic on June 29, 1928, the same day that the Outerbridge Crossing to the south opened. The new bridge was named after Major General George W. Goethals, designer of the Panama Canal and the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority. Goethals died tragically before the bridge was dedicated.

The Goethals Bridge (I-278) and the parallel Arthur Kill railroad bridge serve the heavily industrialized areas of northwest Staten Island and the Newark-Elizabeth ports. Together these areas provide full intermodal access via highway, railroads, seaports and Newark Airport. (Left photo by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; right photo by Alex Nitzman.)

IT TOOK THE VERRAZANO TO MAKE IT PROFITABLE: When the initial studies were made in the 1920's, the Port Authority estimated that it would take ten years for the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing to become self-sufficient. Although the Goethals Bridge handled 675,000 vehicles during 1929, the first full year of operation, usage dropped sharply because of the Great Depression and World War II. It was not until 1945 that the bridge handled more than one million vehicles. Still, the bridge did not become self-sufficient until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964.

From the 1952 to 1972, the Goethals Bridge carried Route 439 from New Jersey to New York. The I-278 designation was added to the bridge in 1958, when the Interstate was routed through Staten Island via the Goethals Bridge and the (then-proposed) Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

In 1959, the Arthur Kill movable lift railroad bridge was built parallel to the Goethals Bridge, replacing a swing span that stood earlier in that location. Today, this railroad span remains the longest movable lift bridge in the world.

GOETHALS RECONSTRUCTION: In 2001, the Port Authority began work to repaint the 750,000 square feet of structural steel on the truss structure of the Goethals Bridge. Workers are removing old coats of lead-based paint, and are applying a three-coat system that includes a zinc primer, epoxy intermediate coat and a urethane topcoat. The $19 million project was completed in 2003.

In 2003, the Port Authority began work on a $252 million project to replace the deck of the Goethals Bridge. This project, which will involve replacing the lower layers of steel and concrete that support the road above, is scheduled for completion in 2009.

A TWIN FOR THE GOETHALS? In January 1998, one month after it received final approval from the U.S. Coast Guard for its construction, the Port Authority announced plans for a $350 million span that would parallel the existing Goethals Bridge just to the south. The existing bridge, which has capacity for only four 10-foot-wide lanes of traffic, carries approximately 75,000 vehicles per day (AADT) as part of I-278. According to Ernesto L. Butcher, the authority's director of bridges and tunnels, the bridge is "structurally sound, but functionally obsolete." Under this plan, the new bridge would have accommodated three eastbound lanes while the rehabilitated bridge would have carried three westbound lanes. Both spans would have had provisions for HOV lanes, emergency shoulders, and multi-use paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a mass transit advocacy group, opposes the second Goethals Bridge. The group cites the Port Authority's own estimates that traffic will return to congested levels in 20 years. Guy Molinari, the Staten Island borough president, said that the span would bring only "a very minimal benefit" to Staten Islanders, which would be offset mostly by the increased traffic from cars and trucks using the island as a thoroughfare to and from points east. He said he would support the bridge only if the Port Authority agreed to finance mass transit projects for Staten Island, such as reviving the long-dormant North Shore rail line.

DISCUSSION SHIFTS TO A NEW GOETHALS BRIDGE: A follow-up discussion from contributor Marc Rivlin revealed that Port Authority moved away from twinning the existing Goethals Bridge and instead favored building a completely new span:

I was at an all-day conference on Staten Island transit and transportation at the College of Staten Island. While the Goethals Bridge twinning was mentioned a few times, Joann Papageorgis of the Port Authority only spoke of the Goethals Bridge Modernization Program and an environmental impact statement that is underway. Borough President James Molinaro said, at the end of the day, that twinning was off the table since 2003 and that there would instead be a replacement. That was the first time I heard this, and there are no environment impact statement (EIS) documents on the Port Authority web site.

In September 2004, the Port Authority initiated the EIS process with preliminary scoping meetings on Staten Island and in Elizabeth, New Jersey. On August 14, 2008, the agency released in its draft EIS report preliminary plans for a replacement Goethals span that would be built either north or south of the existing span. The new bridge would be a cable-stay design in which the eastbound and westbound roadways would be suspended from the towers. It would have capacity for six lanes of vehicular traffic (three in each direction), with one lane in each direction reserved exclusively for HOV or bus-only traffic and breakdown lanes to ease traffic flow. Accommodations would be made for multi-use pedestrian-bicycle paths as well as a future mass transit line.

The Port Authority expects contracts for the $1 billion Goethals Bridge replacement to be let in 2011 with completion scheduled by 2015. The old bridge would be demolished upon completion of the project.

These illustrations show the proposed replacement of the Goethals Bridge (I-278) slated for completion in 2015. (Illustrations by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.)

Construction of the new six-lane Goethals Bridge should be expedited as a priority project for completion by 2015. Provisions should be made on the new span for pedestrians and cyclists.

Type of bridge:
Construction started:
Opened to traffic:
Length of main span:
Length of side spans:
Length of main and side spans:
Total length of bridge and approaches:
Width of bridge:
Number of traffic lanes:
Clearance at mid-span above mean high water:
Cost of original structure:

September 1, 1925
June 29, 1928
672 feet
240 feet
1,152 feet
8,600 feet
62 feet
4 lanes
135 feet

SOURCES: The Bridges of New York by Sharon Reier, Quadrant Press (1977); Engineers of Dreams by Henry Petroski, Vintage Books-Random House (1995); "A Guide to Civil Engineering Projects in and Around New York City," American Society of Civil Engineers (1997); Bridges by Judith Dupre, Black Dog And Leventhal Publishers (1997); Perpetual Motion: The Illustrated History of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by Joe Mysak and Judith Schiffer, General Publishing Group (1997); "Port Authority Is To Consider Bridge Parallel to the Goethals" by Andy Newman, The New York Times (1/27/1998); "At Outerbridge, NJ Has Its Crossing To Bear" by Al Frank, The Star-Ledger (3/28/2000); "$63 Million Goethals Bridge Rehabilitation Underway" by David S. Chartock, Construction Equipment Guide (8/09/2005); "A Cool New Goethals" by Jay DeDapper, WNBC-TV (8/14/2008); Goethals Bridge Reconstruction: Environmental Impact Statement, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (2008); New Jersey Department of Transportation; Phil Case; Hank Eisenstein; Dave Frieder; Ralph Herman; Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; Dan Moraseski; Mark Rivlin; Tom Scannello.

  • Goethals Bridge and I-278 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.




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