This postcard shows an aerial view of the twin-span Newburgh-Beacon Bridge (I-84 and NY 52) crossing the Hudson River. The original span, which carries four lanes of westbound traffic, opened in 1963. The parallel span, which carries three lanes of eastbound traffic, opened in 1980. (Postcard supplied by Mark Stauter.)

THE FIRST NEWBURGH-BEACON BRIDGE: Since 1743, the cities of Newburgh and Beacon had been served by ferries crossing the Hudson River. Beginning with a fleet of sailboats and rowboats, the trans-Hudson service deployed three ferryboats by 1910. Each ferry, which measured 160 feet by 35 feet, could hold 30 passenger cars on each trip. By the 1950's, the growth in trans-Hudson vehicular traffic along NY 52 and construction of the nearby New York State Thruway (I-87) had rendered the ferry service obsolete.

In 1950, the New York State Department of Public Works (NYSDPW) recognized the need for a fixed crossing between Newburgh and Beacon. The proposed bridge was to not only carry trans-Hudson traffic, but also serve as a feeder route into the New York State Thruway. Spurred by New York State Assembly leader Lee B. Mailer, Governor Thomas E. Dewey signed a bill in April 1951 appropriating $50,000 for the NYSDPW to study the feasibility of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

During the fall of 1951, test borings and site surveys were completed under the direction of John Burch McMorran, then chief engineer for the NYSDPW. In February 1953, Assemblyman Mailler introduced additional legislation to authorize actual construction of the bridge. Although the bill was approved, there were no appropriations attached. The New York State Bridge Authority, which was charged with construction of the proposed bridge, was already financing the under-construction Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge (NY 199).

In 1956, as part of the Federal-aid Interstate highway program, the NYSDPW selected the route of Interstate 84, the major east-west highway linking New England with northeastern Pennsylvania, through Dutchess, Putnam and Orange counties. The selected route for I-84 required a new span across the Hudson River. To finance the $22 million construction cost, the Authority would charge tolls for eastbound motorists. In the meantime, the Authority assumed control of the Newburgh-Beacon ferry.

On April 22, 1957, the Army Corps of Engineers approved construction of the 1.5-mile-long Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Soon after this approval, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) determined that the bridge would have to be at least four lanes wide to carry I-84. Federal aid for the toll bridge was approved because it would be part of an Interstate highway. Construction of the four-lane bridge was scheduled to begin in 1959, but a shortfall in expected Federal highway funds delayed work. In 1960, at the recommendation of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the New York State Bridge Authority opted to build a less expensive two-lane bridge without Federal assistance.

The bridge is highlighted by a 2,204-foot cantilever span, which has a main span of 1,000 feet and side spans of 602 feet. At either end of the cantilever span, there are truss spans of uneven length. On the western end, there are three truss spans totaling 1,230 feet in length. The eight truss spans on the eastern end total 3,440 feet in length. Combined with the approaches, the total length of the bridge is 7,855 feet from shore to shore. The 30-foot-wide roadway was designed to accommodate three lanes of traffic, but handled two lanes of traffic - one lane in each direction - when it opened.

The piers for the bridge were constructed using caissons and cofferdams. The caissons, large concrete blocks shaped like upside-down U's, were set into the riverbed, and then driven down to bedrock using the weight of masonry on top as men guided machines to dig out the silt below. Cofferdams are large metal pens set in the river that are lined with concrete, and then the water is pumped out to allow men to work in the space on the river floor and set the piers. The deepest pier on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge was set 163 feet below sea level.

The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, along with its approach highway - a 10-mile-long stretch of I-84 between the New York State Thruway (I-87) in Newburgh and US 9 in Fishkill - was opened to traffic on November 2, 1963. The curved shape of the cantilever span, which was planned by engineers Modjeski and Masters to be more attractive than conventional cantilever designs, won the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge the 1965 American Institute of Steel Construction "most beautiful bridge" award for long spans.

LEFT: This 1962 photo shows the erection of the concrete piers and deck trusses on the original Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. RIGHT: This 1980 photo shows the hoisting of the final section of the parallel Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. (Photos by New York State Bridge Authority.)

THE SECOND NEWBURGH-BEACON BRIDGE: Before its construction, it was estimated that the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge would carry 25,000 cars each day, requiring a four-lane design. When funding became difficult, Governor Rockefeller had decided that the bridge would never carry that many vehicles, and that a two-lane structure would be sufficient. Even Dr. John Edwards, chairman of the New York State Bridge Authority, said in 1963 that a parallel span would not be needed until 1988. However, by 1964, the first full year of the bridge's operation, 25,000 vehicles were using the bridge daily, and by the 1970's, traffic volume across the two-lane bridge had doubled. The need for greater carrying capacity was further realized by the completion of the entire I-84 route between Sturbridge, Massachusetts and Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1978.

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the New York State Bridge Authority conducted studies during 1971 and 1972, and solicited opinions from local leaders on how best to increase capacity. Three proposals, all from candidates running in the 100th Assembly District race in 1972, were advanced as follows:

  • Richard Schermerhorn (R,C) advocated adding two lanes above or below the existing roadway. (According to the bridge designers and the NYSDOT, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge was not designed to be converted to a double-deck structure, and the connections to I-84 would have been extremely difficult to construct.)

  • Louis Diehl (D) advocated construction of a twin two-lane bridge parallel to the existing span.

  • Benjamin Roosa (R) advocated construction of a twin three-lane bridge parallel to the existing span, and an expansion of the original bridge to accommodate three 12-foot-wide lanes. (This option was ultimately pursued.)

Soon thereafter, the New York State Bridge Authority entered into an agreement with the NYSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to construct a parallel Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Approaches for the new span were to be constructed on land owned by the New York State Bridge Authority just south of the existing span.

In 1975, the FHWA gave its approval to the design and construction plans for the parallel span. Under the Interstate Highway Fund, the Federal government financed 90 percent of the cost of constructing the new span and reconstructing the existing span, while New York State financed the remaining cost.

The engineering firm that designed the original span, Modjeski and Masters, was hired to construct a parallel span just south of the existing Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Unlike the original span, the new bridge was built with new weathering steel. As the metal rusted, it would form a protective coat that doesn't require painting. The massive span sections were assembled downriver at a plant in New Windsor, and then floated up to the bridge site on barges, where they were winched up and bolted into place. When it was finished, the bridge was the longest in the world built from the new rusting steel.

The new bridge, on which construction began in 1976, was to be built to the same length dimensions as the original span, but was to have a roadway width of 48 feet. The wider bridge was to accommodate four lanes of traffic, plus an eight-foot-wide lane for pedestrians and bicycles. On November 1,1980, the $94 million parallel bridge was opened to traffic.

Over the next four years, the original span was closed to traffic so that its roadway could be widened from 30 feet to 36 feet. The older bridge was also strengthened, and repainted to match the deep brown rust color of the newer bridge's weathering steel. During this time, the newly opened span carried two westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes of I-84 and NY 52 traffic. On June 2, 1984, the reconstructed westbound span began carrying three lanes of traffic. The newer span was then reconfigured to carry three lanes of eastbound traffic, in addition to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

THE NEWBURGH-BEACON BRIDGE TODAY: The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, whose main cantilever truss spans are the 19th longest in the world, now carries approximately 65,000 vehicles per day (AADT). In the years since the bridge has opened, Interstate 84 has not only become a major commercial link between New England and points west, but has also formed part of the outer loop around the New York metropolitan area. Despite growing traffic volume, there are no plans to increase capacity across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge at the present time.

In 1997, the span was ceremonially renamed the "Hamilton Fish Newburgh-Beacon Bridge" in honor of the five generations of the Fish family that have represented the lower Hudson Valley on the state and Federal levels. However, most people still refer to the span simply as the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

The twin spans of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge carry Interstate 84 across the Hudson River. Carrying some 20 million vehicles annually, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge has the heaviest volume among the New York State Bridge Authority spans. (Photos by New York State Bridge Authority.)

Type of bridge:
Construction started (original bridge):
Opened to traffic (original bridge):
Construction started (parallel bridge):
Opened to traffic (parallel bridge):
Length of main cantilever span (both bridges):
Length of main and side cantilever spans (both bridges):
Length of truss spans, Newburgh side (both bridges):
Length of truss spans, Beacon side (both bridges):
Total length of all spans and approaches (both bridges):
Width of roadway (original bridge):
Width of roadway (parallel bridge):
Clearance at center above mean high water:
Structural material:
Deck material (bridge and viaducts):
Pier material (viaducts):
Cost of original bridge:
Cost of parallel bridge:

Cantilever and truss
April 1, 1960
November 2, 1963
June 1, 1976
November 1, 1980
1,000 feet
2,204 feet
1,230 feet
3,440 feet
7,855 feet
36 feet
48 feet
135 feet
Steel
Steel
Reinforced concrete
$22,000,000
$94,000,000

SOURCES: "News and Notes from the Field of Travel," The New York Times (10/27/1963); "Ceremony Opens Newburgh Span" by Bernard Stengren, The New York Times (11/03/1963); "A New Bridge Is Added to an Old One Between Two Hudson Cities," The New York Times (11/01/1980); "Bridges Spanning the Hudson" by Krisy Nigro, Marist College (1999); "Newburgh-Beacon Bridge Maxed Out" by A. Tacuma Roeback, The Times-Herald Record (8/13/2000); Modjeski and Masters; New York State Bridge Authority; Christof Spieler; Stéphane Theroux.

  • I-84 and NY 52 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

NEWBURGH-BEACON BRIDGE LINKS:

NEWBURGH-BEACON BRIDGE CURRENT CONDITIONS:

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