This 2002 photo shows the eastbound I-278 segment of the Bruckner Expressway. The stone-faced overpass for the Bronx River Parkway lies ahead. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
LINKING TWO BRIDGES WITH PELHAM BAY: Before there was a Bruckner Expressway, Bruckner Boulevard was a major thoroughfare through the southern and eastern sections of the Bronx. Formerly known as Eastern Boulevard, the road was renamed in the late 1940's after a former Bronx Borough President. In addition to serving residential and business area, the boulevard was designed to connect the Triborough and Bronx-Whitestone bridges with Pelham Bay Park.
The original Bruckner Boulevard had two separate route designations. The NY 1A designation was given to the section from the Willis Avenue and Third Avenue Bridges to the Hutchinson River Parkway, which continued with the NY 1A designation. East of this point, Bruckner Boulevard continued as NY 164. (Where the original Bruckner Boulevard ended at Pelham Parkway, NY 164 continued north along Baychester Avenue into Westchester.) The NY 164 designation was removed by 1961, the NY 1A designation by 1972.
FROM BOULEVARD TO EXPRESSWAY: For many years, Bruckner Boulevard had been planned as a limited-access approach route to the Triborough Bridge. As early as 1936, the Regional Plan Association recommended that an east-west expressway be constructed to connect the Triborough Bridge with a north-south expressway through Westchester County and Connecticut.
The 1941 master arterial plan developed by the New York City Planning Department described the route of the expressway as follows:
Southern Boulevard Express Highway: The large volume of traffic using this easterly connection to the Triborough Bridge warrants its conversion to an express highway. Most of the underpasses required for this conversion have been mapped, and the necessary reconstruction work would not be difficult.
Eastern Boulevard Express Highway: This highway forms the main traffic route serving the eastern Bronx, and linking the Triborough and Bronx-Whitestone bridges. Its conversion to an express highway utilizing the existing right-of-way (182 feet) would involve the construction of grade separations at a few important intersections, and mall treatment to close off access from local streets to the express roadways.
In the late 1940's, the boulevard was widened in preparation for its anticipated expressway conversion. A drawbridge over the Bronx River, which was built as part of this Bruckner Boulevard expansion, was ultimately incorporated into the Bruckner Expressway.
The artist's conception of the elevated Bruckner Expressway and Bruckner Boulevard dates back to 1951, more than a decade before this section was completed. (Figure by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)
MOSES' PLANS FOR THE BRUCKNER: In 1951, Robert Moses, the New York City arterial coordinator and the chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), proposed an elevated expressway along Bruckner Boulevard from the Triborough Bridge to the Bronx River, and a depressed expressway from the Bronx River to Pelham Bay Park. The $23 million cost of the expressway was to be borne by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.
The elevated section was to be constructed as follows:
ELEVATED SECTION: There were to be two 36-foot-wide carriageways (accommodating a total of six 12-foot-wide lanes), each separated by a 12-foot-wide center mall (for parking disabled vehicles) and flanked by a three-foot-wide curbed shoulder. Both the cantilevered superstructure and piers were to be of all-steel construction. The viaduct was to allow a minimum clearance of 14 feet.
BOULEVARD SECTION: The dual-dual boulevard configuration was to be improved. While the existing 32-foot-wide roadways were to be maintained for the service roads (permitting two 12-foot-wide travel lanes and parking in each direction), the main boulevard roadways were to be widened from 32 feet to 36 feet (permitting three 12-foot-wide travel lanes in each direction). The eastbound service road was to be placed directly underneath the expressway viaduct, while the eastbound main boulevard roadway was to be placed underneath the cantilevered section.
RAILROAD: The existing New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (now Amtrak) lines were to maintain operation beneath the eastbound lanes of the viaduct.
The elevated Bruckner Expressway proposal ran into opposition from local storeowners who feared loss of business, and residents who feared the spread of blight common to areas that had elevated highways and subways. Under pressure from these groups, Bronx Borough President James Lyons proposed an alternative plan of a below-surface expressway to Moses. However, there was a price on the Bruckner proposal.
From Robert A. Caro's The Power Broker:
There was, of course, a price on the package: if you wanted it, you had to take it as is. You couldn't ask for alterations. The borough president knew his borough better than Moses or his engineers… When, as occasionally happened, a borough president persisted in raising such considerations, Moses used the power of his money to discipline him - so effectively that he was not likely to try it again.
Moses reallocated the $23 million from the Bruckner project to other highway projects in New York City. He then added, "Borough President Lyons lost some $23 million for the Bronx. And precisely the same thing will happen with other Bronx highway projects if Mr. Lyons does not change his tactics." Henceforth, Borough President Lyons approved every route presented by Moses in their entirety.
Nevertheless, the Bruckner Expressway proposal would not die quickly. Moses included the Bronx highway in his 1955 Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, a blueprint for the city's future highways and bridges. City and state officials approved the expressway in October 1956, paving the way for Interstate designation and the promise of 90 percent Federal funding.
LEFT: The elevated I-278 section of the Bruckner Expressway under construction in 1961. RIGHT: Just south of the Pelham Parkway, the I-95 section of the Bruckner Expressway awaits its 1961 completion. (Photos by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Along elevated sections in the southwest Bronx, the Bruckner Expressway features six 12-foot-wide lanes separated by a steel guardrail. In the Sound View area, the depressed expressway features six 12-foot-wide lanes separated by a 12-foot-wide center median. Near Pelham Bay Park, two additional lanes are provided to the depressed expressway. Traffic on existing Bruckner Boulevard is carried underneath the elevated expressway, transitioning onto one-way service roads along the depressed sections.
An elaborate, high-speed interchange was planned for the intersection of the Bruckner Expressway, the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95 and I-295) and the Hutchinson River Parkway, replacing the antiquated, underpowered Bruckner traffic circle and Unionport drawbridge. In addition, high-volume interchanges were to be provided at the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87), the Sheridan Expressway (I-895), the Bronx River Parkway, the Throgs Neck Expressway (I-695) and the Pelham Parkway.
Construction on the first section of the Bruckner Expressway (I-278), a 2.3-mile-long, six-lane elevated section from the Major Deegan Expressway to the Sheridan Expressway, began in 1957. Work began in 1959 on the depressed eight-lane segment of the expressway - which eventually became part of I-95 - from the end of the New England Thruway to the Throgs Neck Expressway. The depressed (I-95) segment was completed in 1961, and the elevated (I-278) segment was completed one year later.
THE FINISHING TOUCHES: Work on the "missing link" between the Sheridan Expressway and the Throgs Neck Expressway merge would not begin for several more years, and would only be completed once Moses lost control of his New York City and TBTA leadership posts.
David Leder, former resident of the East Bronx, recalls the long-delayed construction of the Bruckner Expressway as follows:
As a former resident of the East Bronx (born there in 1953 and resided in Parkchester until 1961), I remember how the construction delays went on year after year until the project became a kind of sardonic joke. Residents said that "the mob" would never finish it as long as they could keep on getting money to pour concrete. One day, a sign by the Bruckner interchange (then under construction) had a sign saying that a Federal agency had taken over the project, and the construction then proceeded rather quickly after that.
Later, when I studied political science, a textbook mentioned how the project had to be taken over by Federal authorities in order to finally bring it to a conclusion because it was backing up traffic literally up and down the East Coast along I-95. Highway construction tells us a lot about the political realities of America.
Right-of-way acquisition and construction of the Bruckner "missing link" began in 1964. This missing link, which comprised I-278 and I-95 between the Bronx River Parkway and the Throgs Neck Expressway, was part of the massive Bruckner interchange reconstruction project, and was not finished until the completion of the new interchange on December 20, 1972. During the course of two decades, the cost of the expressway had gone from $23 million to $149 million.
This 1998 photo shows the westbound Bruckner Expressway (I-278) just before EXIT 45 (East 138th Street) in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
DIFFERENT INTERSTATE DESIGNATIONS OVER THE YEARS: In the years prior to its 1972 completion, the Bruckner Expressway had a number of different Interstate designations. These designations were as follows:
June 1958 to December 1958: I-278 from Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) to Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95); I-95 from Cross Bronx-Bruckner interchange to New England Thruway.
December 1958 to April 1959: I-895 from Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) to Sheridan Expressway (designated I-895 in the February 1959 plan); I-678 from Sheridan Expressway to Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95); I-95 from Cross Bronx-Bruckner interchange to New England Thruway.
April 1959 to 1972: I-278 from Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) to Sheridan Expressway (designated I-278 in the July 1959 plan); I-878 from Sheridan Expressway to Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95); I-95 from Cross Bronx-Bruckner interchange to New England Thruway.
1972 to present: I-278 from Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) to Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95); I-95 from Cross Bronx-Bruckner interchange to New England Thruway. Note that this was the original route plan for the Bruckner Expressway from 1958.
Ralph Herman, contributor to misc.transport.road and nycroads.com, recalls the period when the final section of the Bruckner Expressway was constructed as follows:
When the Bruckner interchange was still under construction, the incomplete Bruckner section between the Sheridan Expressway (then signed as I-278) and the Bruckner traffic circle was posted by the New York State Department of Public Works (later NYSDOT) as I-878. In particular, I remember a guide sign hanging from the elevated Bruckner Expressway on eastbound Bruckner Blvd and Hunts Point Avenue with I-878 on it, as were the entrance ramp signs at White Plains Road.
Once the Sheridan Expressway was redesignated I-895 in 1972, I-278 was placed on the former I-878 section in the Bronx. While the New York City DOT placed a "2" over the "8" on their guide signs, the New York State DOT replaced the entire marker on their guide signs.
This 1998 photo shows the westbound Bruckner Expressway (I-278) at EXIT 44 (I-87 / Major Deegan Expressway) in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: In early 2002, the NYSDOT completed a $48 million project to rebuild the elevated Bruckner Expressway from EXIT 44 (I-87 / Major Deegan Expressway) east to EXIT 46 (I-895 / Sheridan Expressway). The project included rehabilitation of the elevated structure; roadway resurfacing; operational, geometric and safety improvements at the Major Deegan Expressway and Sheridan Expressway interchanges; and new lighting and signing.
In mid-2002, the NYSDOT completed a $155 million, three-year-long reconstruction of the "Bruckner interchange" with the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95 / I-295) and the Hutchinson River Parkway. The work included the reconstruction of 14 ramps and bridge structures, installation of new drainage and electrical systems, and placement of new guardrails and signs.
The NYSDOT is rebuilding the heavily traveled I-95 section of the Bruckner Expressway from the "Bruckner interchange" north to EXITS 8 B-C (Pelham Parkway). The $33 million rehabilitation and repaving project is scheduled for completion in 2005. A separate project to rebuild the northbound I-95 bridge over the Throgs Neck Expressway (I-695) will be finished the following year.
Finally, the state has long-range plans to rebuild EXIT 46 (I-895 / Sheridan Expressway). Safety and operational improvements would be the focus of the project. Another possible aim of the project would be the creation of direct truck access to the Hunts Point Market via a southerly extension of the Sheridan Expressway. A final record of decision is expected in 2006, with final design work concluded two years hence. Construction of the $400 million project would not begin until 2009 at the earliest.
According to the NYSDOT, the Bruckner Expressway handles approximately 115,000 vehicles per day (AADT) on the six-lane I-278 section, and approximately 155,000 vehicles per day on the eight-lane I-95 section.
This 2002 photo shows the northbound I-95 section of the Bruckner Expressway (I-95) approaching EXITS 8B-C (Pelham Parkway). Some signs on the gantry ahead date back to the expressway's opening in 1961. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
THE BRUCKNER (EASTERN BOULEVARD) DRAWBRIDGE: One of the few remaining drawbridges on the Interstate highway system, the Bruckner Drawbridge carries both the Bruckner Expressway (I-278) and the Bruckner Boulevard service roads over the Bronx River.
The original four-lane span, which carries westbound traffic, was constructed by the city of New York in 1930. Anticipating the conversion of the former Eastern Boulevard into the Bruckner Expressway, the city constructed a second span to accommodate four lanes for eastbound traffic. This second span opened on October 27, 1953 at a cost of $2.8 million.
When the leaves are closed, the Bruckner Drawbridge has a vertical clearance of 26.5 feet over mean high water. The 634-foot-long bridge has a horizontal clearance of 70 feet.
THE UNIONPORT DRAWBRIDGE: The Eastern Boulevard Drawbridge was not the only such span along the Bruckner route. A second span, the 601-foot-long Unionport Drawbridge, was constructed to carry Bruckner Boulevard over Westchester Creek.
Like the Eastern Boulevard span, the original Unionport Drawbridge was constructed by the city of New York in 1930. Anticipating the conversion of the former Eastern Boulevard into the Bruckner Expressway, the city constructed a second span to accommodate an additional four lanes. This second span opened on October 27, 1953 at a cost of $5.4 million.
Once the second span opened, the original span carried westbound Bruckner Boulevard traffic, while the new span carried eastbound traffic. The spans connected to the newly constructed Cross Bronx Expressway to the west, and to the Bruckner traffic circle to the east. Over the next decade, the antiquated drawbridge and traffic circle were no longer able to handle the growing interstate traffic demands. In 1966, plans were announced for a new $68 million multi-level interchange that was to replace the old Bruckner traffic circle.
To make way for the elevated highways that would comprise the new Bruckner interchange, the original 1930 Unionport Drawbridge was torn down. Traffic was diverted to the newer 1953 drawbridge, which today continues to carry four lanes (two lanes in each direction) of Bruckner Boulevard traffic.
Both the Eastern Boulevard and Unionport drawbridges are operated and maintained by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT).
The Bruckner Drawbridge, which carries I-278 and Bruckner Boulevard over the Bronx River, is one of the few remaining drawbridges on the Interstate highway system. (Photo by New York City Department of Transportation.)
SOURCES: "Freeways Are Now Urged," The New York Times (12/13/1936); "Mayor Lays Stone for Bronx Bridge," The New York Times (11/02/1937); "Master Plan: Express Highways, Parkways and Major Streets," New York City Planning Department (1941); "Traffic Improvement of Bruckner Boulevard," Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1951); Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, The Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1955); "Plans Approved for Bronx Road," The New York Times (10/04/1956); "Elevated Road To Open in the Bronx," The New York Times (10/18/1962); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); "The Bruckner Interchange Is Open at Last" by Frank J. Prial, The New York Times (12/21/1972); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); The Bronx: It Was Only Yesterday, 1935-1965 by Lloyd Utman and Gary Hermalyn, The Bronx County Historical Society (1992); New York City Department of Transportation; New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; New York State Department of Transportation; Daniel T. Dey; Ralph Herman; David Leder; Nathan W. Perry; Jeff Saltzman; Stephen Summers.
I-278, I-95, NY 1A and NY 164 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman.