Hudson River Bridge proposals:

  1. Suspension design by Gustav Lindenthal for a bridge at West 23rd Street (1888). The design featured a 2,850-foot-long main span, two 1,500-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 150 feet.
  2. Arch design by Max Am Ende (1889). The design featured a 2,850-foot-long main span, two 795-foot-long side spans, two 705-foot-long flanking spans, and a clearance of 150 feet.
  3. Cantilever design by Union Bridge Company for a bridge at West 70th Street (1893). The design featured a 2,100-foot-long main span, two 810-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 150 feet.
(Designs from George Washington Bridge, American Society of Civil Engineers, 1933.)

PLANNING THE FIRST HUDSON RIVER CROSSING: In 1885, Gustav Lindenthal, a bridge engineer who established his reputation on two notable Pittsburgh spans, was approached by officials at the Pennsylvania Railroad regarding the feasibility of a railroad crossing across the Hudson River. At that time, the Pennsylvania Railroad was at a disadvantage vis--vis its chief competitor, the New York Central Railroad, because it did not have a direct entrance into Manhattan.

Because of the smoke that emanated from the locomotives of the era, the railroad favored a bridge across the Hudson rather than a tunnel. After giving serious thought to a cantilever design, Lindenthal decided upon a suspension bridge because such a design would allow wider distances between piers. However, the suspension bridge would have to have a main span of about 3,000 feet, nearly twice the length of the main span of the Brooklyn Bridge completed two years earlier.

Constructing this great bridge, along with its approaches and Manhattan terminal, was thought to be too expensive for one railroad to handle. In response, Lindenthal organized the North River Bridge Company in 1887 to seek financial support from several railroads. These railroads would share not only the bridge, but also the terminal facilities. The completion of the bridge would be a boon for these railroads, whose transcontinental tracks ended in New Jersey. Freight trains bound for New York would no longer be at the mercy of heavy Hudson River traffic and bad weather, nor would they have to make a 300-mile detour via Albany.

Later that year, Lindenthal published The Proposed New York City Terminal Railroad, Including North River Bridge and Terminal Station, in New York City, in which he described the parameters of the project. The proposed bridge featured a main span of 2,850 feet between towers, with side spans of 1,500 feet. Eyebar chains were to be suspended from 530-foot-tall steel-and-masonry towers, together supporting the deck 145 feet above the Hudson River. The six railroad tracks that were to be carried by the bridge required deep stiffening trusses. These tracks were to continue into Manhattan on high viaducts to a proposed terminal station near Sixth Avenue and West 18th Street, "as close as convenient to the principal hotels."

The complete Hudson River Bridge and Terminal project, which was to include a tunnel through Bergen Hill in New Jersey, was projected by Lindenthal to cost $23 million. An additional $14 million was to be set aside for right-of-way acquisition. Because the expenses of operating the system were to be covered by the railroads - some $2 million per year in revenue would come from passenger fares alone - the proposal appeared financially sound.

The next year, in 1888, a competing proposal for a cantilever bridge across the Hudson River had been submitted to the legislatures of New York and New Jersey. This plan called for two piers in the middle of the Hudson River, a 1,000-foot main span, and a 135-foot clearance above the river. However,
Engineering News, defending the Lindenthal suspension bridge proposal, said that the cantilever bridge would compromise navigation along the Hudson and be less visually appealing than the suspension bridge:

The proposal contemplates the erection of a cantilever, and stipulates for the placement of one pier in the river channel, neither of which should be permitted unless absolutely found necessary, even if the cost were considerably increased. If there be one place where a mere "utility structure" should not be permitted, but where dignity and beauty of form should be a controlling feature, it is over the North (Hudson) River in New York, and in that and other respects the suspension type seems to us to have great advantages for the location.

Construction of a suspension bridge was proposed by Federal legislation, pending approval of plans by the Secretary of War. For a Hudson River Bridge to be constructed, no piers would be allowed in the river. By 1890, the bridge proposal passed both houses of Congress.

Ground was broken for the bridge on June 8, 1895, and the first foundation masonry was laid at the site of the Hoboken anchorage, across the Hudson River from West 23rd Street in Manhattan. Work did not progress much further because of the difficulties in financing the $37 million cost of the project. Lindenthal admitted that "the financiering of the bridge far exceeds in difficulty the engineering problems presented."  As the nineteenth century drew to a close, developments in tunneling and in electric-traction locomotives led the Pennsylvania Railroad to pull out of the Hudson River Bridge project, opting instead to construct its own Hudson River tunnels.

In 1902, after being appointed New York City bridge commissioner by Mayor Seth Low, Lindenthal shifted his attention from the Hudson River Bridge to the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Queensboro bridges then under construction.

Hudson River Bridge proposals:

  1. Suspension design by the Board of Engineers appointed by the U.S. Secretary of War (1894). The design featured a 3,220-foot-long main span, two 965-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 160 feet.
  2. Suspension design by George S. Morrison (1896). The design featured a 3,080-foot-long main span, two side spans of unspecified length (approximately 1,050 feet each), and a clearance of 158 feet.
  3. Suspension design by Boller, Hodge and Baird for a bridge at West 57th Street (1913). The design featured a 2,880-foot-long main span, two 1,020-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 170 feet.
(Designs from George Washington Bridge, American Society of Civil Engineers, 1933.)

THE PROPOSED 57TH STREET BRIDGE: By the mid-1920's, great suspension bridges were being either constructed or planned in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and San Francisco. While Lindenthal submitted designs for some of these projects, it was the Hudson River Bridge that he really wanted to build.

The proposed suspension bridge between West 57th Street and West New York, New Jersey was to have a main span of 3,240 feet, flanked by side spans of 1,590 feet. Between abutments, the total length of the bridge was to be 7,210 feet. Two 825-foot-tall steel-and-masonry towers, which would have been at the time the tallest structures in the world, were to be erected at both shorelines. The original proposal called for steel cables to suspend the roadway 175 feet over the Hudson River at the center, but the Secretary of War pushed for a 200-foot clearance to allow the passage of naval vessels.

The proposed 235-foot-wide, 35-foot-deep, dual-deck roadway was also impressive. On the upper deck was to be space for 16 lanes of vehicles, plus four trolley tracks. The lower deck was designed to accommodate 12 railroad tracks for passenger and freight service. To support the tremendous loads, deep stiffening trusses were to be incorporated into the deck.

The new Hudson River Bridge project also called for the construction of a large railroad terminal - called "Union Station" - at Ninth Avenue between West 56th Street and West 58th Street. No connection was mentioned to the West Side (Miller Elevated) Highway, which was then under construction.

Toward the end of 1930, the bridge proposal received new support when several eastern railroads signed a pact with the North River Bridge Company. Completion of the bridge, which was then estimated to cost $180 million to construct, would finally enable the railroads to provide direct service to Manhattan.

In 1931, the George Washington Bridge, which was designed by Lindenthal underling Othmar Ammann, opened between West 179th Street in Washington Heights and Fort Lee, New Jersey. While this Hudson River span opened, the War Department never approved construction of the Lindenthal span. Lindenthal died in 1935 with the dream for his Hudson River Bridge left unrealized.

Hudson River Bridge proposals:

  1. Suspension design by Gustav Lindenthal for a bridge at West 57th Street (1920). The design featured a 3,240-foot-long main span, two 1,650-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 150 feet.
  2. Suspension design by W. Schachenmeier for a bridge at West 57th Street (1924). The design featured a 3,937-foot-long main span, two 1,312-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 164 feet.
  3. Arch-suspension design by G.G. Krivoshein for a bridge at West 179th Street (1927). The design featured a 3,500-foot-long main span, two 650-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 210 feet.
  4. Suspension design by Othmar Ammann for a bridge at West 179th Street (1923). The design featured a 3,400-foot-long main span, two 700-foot-long side spans, and a clearance of 210 feet. With some modifications, this was the design adopted for the George Washington Bridge.
(Designs from George Washington Bridge, American Society of Civil Engineers, 1933.)

THE 125TH STREET BRIDGE PROPOSAL: In the mid-1950's, another crossing of the Hudson River was proposed, this time between West 125th Street and Edgewater, New Jersey. Together with the proposed Cross Harlem Expressway, the bridge was to provide additional access from New York City and Long Island to northern New Jersey.

In conjunction with the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the Port of New York Authority conducted a study of present and future traffic volumes on existing facilities. On this basis of this study, the Port Authority and the TBTA came to the following conclusion:

Under the Joint Study, close attention was given to a new bridge in the vicinity of 125th Street, Manhattan. Traffic to be accommodated by such a new major Hudson River crossing, however, would require extensive and costly expressway facilities in Bergen County and across northern Manhattan, and extensive connections through Queens and on Long Island. It would also call for expensive new Harlem River and East River crossings.

We therefore recommend that further consideration of a fourth major Hudson River crossing be deferred until the George Washington Bridge, Narrows Bridge and Throgs Neck Bridge projects have been completed and the traffic patterns at that time can be studied.

Ammann, who designed the George Washington Bridge, drafted a proposed design similar to that of his Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The suspension bridge, which was designed with a 4,000-foot main span and a 6,300-foot distance between anchorages, would have had a truss-stiffened deck with two six-lane roadways, rigid-frame steel-plate towers with hemispheric struts, and four suspension cables.

Instead of constructing the Hudson River Bridge, the Port Authority shifted its attention - under the influence of
Joint Study chairman Robert Moses - to the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the late 1950's. Moses sought financial support from the Port Authority to have his bridge constructed, while the Port Authority needed the support of the TBTA to bail out its money-losing crossings between Staten Island and New Jersey.

In 1954, the Port of New York Authority commissioned Othmar Ammann to design a new suspension bridge across the Hudson River at West 125th Street. The proposal, whose features were to be similar to those for the Verrazano-Narrows and Bronx-Whitestone bridges, never advanced beyond the preliminary design stages. (Photo by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.)

SOURCES: "57th Street Bridge Is Revived by Pact" by Richard V. Oulahan, The New York Times (12/31/1930); George Washington Bridge, American Society of Civil Engineers (1933); Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, The Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1955); "Expressway Plans," Regional Plan Association News (May 1964); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); Engineers of Dreams by Henry Petroski, Vintage Books-Random House (1995); Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann by Darl Rastorfer, Yale University Press (2000); Dave Frieder.

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