This 2000 photo shows the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge (NY 199) from the Kingston shoreline. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
STUDYING A NEEDED HIGHWAY FACILITY: For 190 years, private companies operated the Kingston-Rhinecliff Ferry between the first capital of New York State and Rhinecliff, Dutchess County. During World War II, decreased traffic due to gasoline rations led to losses, and at the end of 1942, the private ferries ceased operation after nearly two centuries of uninterrupted service.
Local officials expected cross-Hudson traffic to increase after the war, but supported a new bridge, rather than a resumption of ferry service, to handle the demand. Support for a bridge between Kingston and Rhinecliff first appeared in 1944 when two state senators, one from Ulster County and the other from Dutchess County, sponsored legislation for a $50,000 study of the area. Although the bill passed both houses of the New York State Legislature, Governor Thomas Dewey vetoed the bill pending proof that the proposed bridge was necessary.
In the meantime, Dewey authorized the resumption of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Ferry under the jurisdiction of the New York State Bridge Authority beginning in 1946. After several vetoes, Dewey finally approved the Wicks-Hatfield Act (named after the two state senators who sponsored the original legislation) that authorized studies for the proposed bridge. In March 1947, Bertram D. Tallamy, superintendent of the New York State Department of Public Works (NYSDPW), declared the proposed Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge a "needed highway facility," allowing design studies to begin.
CLEARING MORE OBSTACLES: Approval of the initial studies was only the first obstacle. Obtaining finances for construction was another obstacle. The New York State Bridge Authority was only permitted to finance $8.0 million, less than half the bridge's $17.5 million cost. In 1951 the authority's bonded debt limit was increased to $30 million by the New York State Legislature, providing sufficient funds to begin construction.
The original plans called for the construction of a suspension bridge, nearly identical in design to the Mid-Hudson Bridge to the south, between Kingston Point and downtown Rhineback. However, opposition on both sides of the Hudson prompted officials to move the proposed route to a new site three miles north. Despite difficulties in obtaining rights-of-way, the New York State Bridge Authority obtained final route and clearance approvals in 1952 from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The new location did not offer terrain amenable to a suspension bridge. Both shores of the Hudson River did not have stable bedrock to anchor the main suspension cables. Instead, a continuous under-deck truss bridge was chosen to span the river.
The final obstacle to construction of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge was a movement to begin construction of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. When a steel shortage developed in the early 1950's, pressure mounted to suspend construction at Kingston until the longer Newburgh span was built. However, the NYSDPW ruled that construction of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge had precedence over the more southerly crossing. When the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge was later approved, the state added a proviso that construction at Newburgh could not begin until work was completed at Kingston.
LEFT: Artist's rendition of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, as originally proposed in 1949. Note the similarities between this design and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. This design was shelved in favor of a continuous truss span when the proposed route was moved three miles north in 1952. RIGHT: Construction of the open-deck truss continues across the Hudson River in this 1956 photo. (Drawing and photo by New York State Bridge Authority.)
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: David Steinman, whose design credits include the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Mackinac Bridge, designed the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. The two-lane vehicular highway bridge features ten deck truss spans: two central spans of 800 feet, six side spans of 500 feet and two approach spans of 300 feet. Including approaches, the bridge measures nearly one and one-half miles long.
Construction crews began work on the piers at the Kingston side of the river in 1954. The foundations for the piers were constructed using cofferdams. Large steel sheets were driven into the riverbed to form a compartment that extended above water level, and hoses were driven into the compartments to pour a concrete base beneath the river. Once the water was then pumped out of the concrete-sealed compartments, workers were able to go down to begin construction of the concrete piers.
Work advanced on the interlocking truss superstructure through 1955, but construction delays forced the postponement of the November 1956 opening date. However, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge opened to traffic on February 2, 1957, three months before the rescheduled dedication date, as a convenience to industrial workers who needed the facility after the river froze and the ferry could not run. Temporary timber curbs were placed on the bridge until it was warm enough to pour cement for curbs and sidewalks, and temporary frame tollbooths were used until the permanent plaza was completed. Formal dedication ceremonies were not held until May 11, 1957. By October 1957, the tollbooths, administration building and maintenance garage were complete.
THE BRIDGE TODAY: The name of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge is somewhat misleading, since it actually connects East Kingston with Rhinebeck. Actually, the bridge takes its name from the ferry that used to cross the Hudson. In 1999, the crossing was ceremonially renamed the "George Clinton Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge" to honor the first governor of New York State. However, most people still refer to the span simply as the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.
According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), about 20,000 vehicles cross the span each day (AADT), double the amount that crossed in 1980. The bridge, which carries NY 199, connects to the east with NY 9D, and to the west with NY 32 and US 9W. A new four-lane route, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Expressway, was completed in 1959 to connect NY 199 with US 209, NY 28 and the New York State Thruway (I-87).
RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS: In 1993, the massive concrete piers received extensive repairs and resealing while additional concrete safety barriers were installed on the west approach, drainage improvements were made at the east end to extend the useful life of the existing approach road. In 1996 and 1997, workers replaced bearings (four fixed and eight "rockers") and diameter pins. This improvement allows greater flexibility for the bridge to move.
Most recently, the New York State Bridge Authority undertook a three-year-long reconstruction of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Some important facets of the $30 million project, which was completed in November 2002, were as follows:
During a three-stage process, the existing concrete deck was replaced with a new concrete exodermic deck with greater load capacity.
The modular expansion joints were modified and covered, providing a seamless surface over which to ride.
The new roadway design not only accommodates the growing number of trucks and buses on the bridge, but also is more amenable to bicyclists. Prior to reconstruction, there were two 10-foot-wide lanes (one in each direction), and two 2-foot-wide shoulders. Upon completion of the project, there are now two 12-foot-wide lanes, and two 8-foot-wide shoulders.
Over 16,000 feet of steel railing was replaced. The new railing system, which combines galvanized steel roadway railing with a cast-in-place lightweight concrete parapet system, is 54 inches tall (replacing the old 34-inch side rails), meeting the recommended height for bicycle safety standards.
This 2000 photo shows the concrete piers of the Kingston approach to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge (NY 199). (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
Type of bridge: Construction started: Opened to traffic: Length of two main truss spans: Total length of truss spans: Total length of all spans and approaches: Width of roadway: Clearance at center above mean high water: Structural material: Deck material (bridge and viaducts): Pier material (viaducts): Cost of original bridge:
To accommodate anticipated cross-Hudson traffic growth, a new two-lane span should be constructed parallel to the existing Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. On the east side of the bridge, an expressway approach should be constructed to NY 9G in Rhinebeck.
SOURCES: "Bridges Spanning the Hudson" by Krisy Nigro, Marist College (1999); "Deck Replacement of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge over the Hudson River" by Dave Rakvica, Hard Hat News (3/16/2001); Modjeski and Masters; New York State Assembly; New York State Bridge Authority; New York State Department of Transportation; Wagh Engineers; David Jackino; Demetri Kolokotronis; C.C. Slater.
NY 199 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.