Thursday, November 20, 2014

Verrazano Bridge is 50: The New York's youngest and the hemisphere's longest bridge.

In his letter  sent  to King Francis I of France in July 1524  Giovanni da Verrazzano wrote:  "...we found a very agreeable place  between two small but prominent hills; between them a very wide river, deep at its mouth, flowed out into the sea...". Historians agree that it is the first mention of  Staten Island and the Narrows in written history of the New York Harbor.
 Four hundred and forty years later and fifty years ago  the bridge connecting  two sides of the narrows- Staten Island and Brooklyn  was built. The Italian Historical Society of America suggested  to name the bridge "Verrazano Bridge"  to honor Italian explorer   Giovanni da Verrazzano. Governor Nelson Rockefeller agreed,  but the name was  misspelled - the second  'z'   got dropped  from  the name .   Other suggested names for the bridge included: the Gateway Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge. 

Between the late 1800s and about 1935, there were many attempts to build a tunnel between Staten Island and Manhattan. In  1923 the construction of the  Staten Island tunnel  started .The tunnel had to connect railways on Staten Island  to the subway line on the Fourth Avenue  in Brooklyn.  The full plan included   Narrows Tunnel, the 4th Avenue Brooklyn subway, and another tunnel going directly from Staten Island to Manhattan, with stops on the Jersey side of the harbor, and even stations at Liberty and Ellis islands. Because of unexpected costs, the work was stopped.   The abandoned tunnel went 150 feet (45m) into The Narrows  in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.
By the  way there are really two underwater tunnels between Brooklyn and Staten Island,   but these  tunnels, built more than hundred years ago,  are not for  the cars and buses  but for the drinking water. Staten Island is the island in the ocean and  does not have its own source of  drinking water.  In 1970 a new 10-foot diameter  Richmond water  tunnel  was built, so the old water tunnels remain now as a backup.

In 1926, bridge engineer David Steinman proposed a suspension bridge  across the Narrows. Steinmann named it Liberty Bridge.  The proposed bridge was a hybrid of  the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco  and the Brooklyn Bridge with two  800-foot-tall Gothic towers .  The Liberty bridge was never built.
The New York City Board of Transportation floated two additional Narrows Tunnel proposals in 1929 and 1937. All proposals were   shelved because of the Depression, and later, because of World War II.
In 1957  the New York State Legislature and the Board of Estimate approved construction of the new  bridge. The bridge was the brainchild of Robert Moses, who had more influence on New York City that perhaps any other individual in its history. Among Moses's many other projects are  the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel  and  Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.   The bridge, connecting Staten Island to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, was the last major road in Moses's grand plan to connect all of New York by car.
The chief engineer was the great Swiss engineer Othmar Ammann.  The bridge was the last project designed by   Ammann, who had started his career in New York   on the George Washington Bridge in 1927.  When Verrazano bridge opened,  Ammann was 85 years old.

The new   bridge was  so large that its design called for the towers to be angled slightly away from each other to compensate for the curvature of the Earth. Some 12,000 men worked on the bridge; about 1,000 men worked on site during the construction schedule's peak.   About 800 buildings were demolished, requiring the relocation of 7,000 residents.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened on November 21, 1964, at a cost of $320.1 million. At that time   it was the longest cable suspension bridge in the world.  Today it remains the longest suspension bridge in the United States, spanning 9,865 feet.    On November 22, 1964, the Bay Ridge-St. George, Staten Island ferry went out of business after almost a century’s service.   In 1964  the cost to cross  the bridge  was $0.50.  Now the full fare is  $15.  By 2009, the bridge was generating $1 million every twenty four hours for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. MTA officials are considering yet another hike on the Verrazano Bridge - the   drivers will pay  $16 cash toll to make the journey from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

There are three amusing  facts that I found about the bridge on Wikipedia:
• Because of thermal expansion of the steel cables, the bridge roadway is 12 feet (3.66 m) lower in summer than in winter
• The bridge's two towers are the tallest structures in New York City outside of Manhattan, and are taller than the tallest non-Manhattan buildings. 
• The cruise ship Queen Mary 2 was redesigned with a flatter funnel to pass under the bridge, and has 13 feet (3.96 m) of clearance under the bridge during high tide.

The construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened many areas of the Staten Island  to residential and commercial development.    Staten Island's population doubled from about 221,000 in 1960 to about 443,000 in 2000.
Verrazano bridge  remains the major commuting artery connecting Staten Island to the rest of New York City, carrying nearly 200,000 drivers each day.  Fifty years ago  years ago  a regular U.S. mail stamp was issued in 1964, celebrating the bridge's opening.

Tomorrow, on the bridge's 50th anniversary   United States Post Office representatives will officially unveil an express mail stamp commemorating the event.