The Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, as shown in this 1998 photo, connects Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn with Fort Tilden in the Rockaways. Both areas, along with Jacob Riis Park on the Rockaway Peninsula, are now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
CONNECTING BROOKLYN WITH THE ROCKAWAYS: In 1933, New York City parks commissioner and arterial coordinator Robert Moses advanced a plan to finance construction of the Marine Parkway Bridge between Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and the Rockaways, the barrier beach communities of Queens. He planned to create a "Marine Parkway Authority," of which he would be chairman, to administer $10 million in construction bonds.
Opposition to the bridge came from several groups. One group feared that a bridge at the western end of Jamaica Bay, where ferries had been running, would doom plans for a port at the site. This pressure brought about the dredging of Rockaway Inlet, which was conducted by the U.S. War Department at a cost of $18.5 million, and the eventual choice of a lift bridge for the Marine Parkway span. Another group was concerned the bridge proposal would have an adverse impact on Floyd Bennett Field, which served as an international airport at the time. Still another group feared that ice flows would pile up against the bridge piers and flood the Rockaways.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Construction on the four-lane Marine Parkway Bridge began in June 1936. The bridge, which was built under the auspices of noted designer David Steinman, consisted of a 540-foot-long center lift truss span, two 540-foot-long side truss spans and two 1,061-foot-long approaches. The 2,000-ton highway lift span, the longest of its type at the time, could be raised 95 feet in two minutes, providing a clearance of 150 feet at mean high water. The steel plate roadway, similar to the surface found on sidewalk gratings, was the first such roadway to be used on a bridge on the East Coast.
To counter the engineering axiom that lift spans were ugly, the tops of the steel towers were tapered so that they would be flush with the main span when it was lifted. To protect against damage from ice flows and stray vessels, more than 600 Douglas fir trees were driven into the sand and strapped to the bridge piers.
THE BRIDGE AND RELATED DEVELOPMENT: The $12 million Marine Parkway Bridge over Rockaway Inlet opened to traffic on July 3, 1937. For a toll of 15 cents, motorists between Brooklyn and the Rockaways no longer had to travel a circuitous route of as much as 30 miles. In addition to providing easy access to recreational areas, the completion of the bridge fostered the growth of the Rockaway Peninsula. During 1938, its first full year of operation, the bridge carried more than 5,000 vehicles per day. Two years later, Moses merged the Marine Parkway Authority into the larger Triborough Bridge Authority.
In conjunction with the Marine Parkway Bridge project, Moses developed a recreational corridor that would straddle both sides of Rockaway Inlet. On the south side of the bridge, he created Jacob Riis Park, the first oceanfront beach in New York City developed for the benefit of motorists. On the north side of the bridge, he created Marine Park, a recreational facility that included a marina and a golf course. These parks, along with Floyd Bennett Field and Fort Tilden, were incorporated into the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1974.
According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), approximately 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT) cross the Marine Parkway Bridge. In 1978, the span was renamed in honor of Gil Hodges, a former first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers and a manager for the New York Mets. Originally designed for recreational traffic, the crossing now handles considerable year-round traffic. The bridge also has a five-foot-wide pedestrian walkway that is part of the Rockaway Greenway, a recreational trail extending along the Rockaway Peninsula.
REHABILITATING THE MARINE PARKWAY BRIDGE: In 1998, MTA Bridges and Tunnels began a major rehabilitation project on the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. This project was comprised of the following improvements:
The existing steel-grated roadway deck on the lift span was replaced with a concrete-and-steel orthotropic deck. A new concrete ("Jersey") barrier now separates opposing traffic flows.
The elevators and electrical systems in the towers were replaced.
New variable message signs and traffic control devices were installed on the bridge, approach roadways and toll plaza. A new service building was built at the toll plaza.
The $120 million project was completed in 2004.
This 1998 photo shows the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge over Rockaway Inlet at dusk. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
Type of bridge: Construction started: Opened to traffic: Length of main lift-truss span: Length of side truss spans: Total length of bridge and approaches: Number of traffic lanes: Clearance at lift span above mean high water: Clearance at lift span in raised position: Steel used in through truss spans and towers: Steel used in deck truss spans: Concrete used in truss piers: Concrete used in deck truss spans: Cost of original structure:
SOURCES: "Motorway to Seaside" by F. David Anderson, The New York Times (6/27/1937); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); The Bridges of New York by Sharon Reier, Quadrant Press (1977); "Managing New York's Capital Crunch" by Hugh O'Neill and Kathryn Garcia, New York University-Taub Urban Research Center (1996); "A Guide to Civil Engineering Projects in and Around New York City," American Society of Civil Engineers (1997); MTA Bridges and Tunnels Facilities, MTA Bridges and Tunnels (2000); Dave Frieder; Ralph Herman; Nathan W. Perry; Jeff Saltzman; Liam Strain.
Marine Parkway Bridge shield by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Jeff Saltzman.