Throgs Neck Bridge Turns 50: Moses Celebrates (Then, Not Now)

Aerial view of the Throgs Neck Bridge. Photographer unknown. (Courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) New York City's Throgs Neck Bridge -- which the MTA calls "the first major bridge of the postwar era," officially turns 50 today.

So it's a good time to look at some history.

"Plans to build a new bridge to try and relieve traffic on its sister Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, two miles to the west, had been in the making for some 15 years," writes the MTA. Robert Moses, who was then the head of the Triborough Bridge Authority, conceived of the bridge as a way to relieve traffic on the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. (Which was built to relieve traffic on the Triborough Bridge -- now known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.)

You can hear Moses talking about the need for the bridge in this piece of WNYC audio from the bridge's  October 1957 groundbreaking. (Audio is courtesy of the NYC Municipal/New York Public Radio Archives.)  Moses beings speaking about 15 minutes in.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Queens Chamber of Commerce, and the speakers included Moses and a man named John Johnson, who was then the New York State Superintendent of Public Works.

Lest you think public protest against construction projects is a recent phenomenon, make sure you listen to the audio at about 11:45 minutes in, as Johnson bemoaned the difficulty of building large scale projects like highways and bridges.

"Everywhere we go, we have a battle to get the highways through," he said. "We are not talking about virgin country, we are talking about developed areas. And because of these developments, and as I said before, to overcome these distances, we must build these highways and these expressways.  And in doing so, some people get hurt."

He went on to say that he welcomed the assistance of "enlightened" groups--like the Queens Chamber of Commerce--because "sometimes you're awfully alone in these problems and in these troubles."

Vigorous opposition to the bridge came from both sides of East River.  At a 1957 city planning commission hearing, protesters called the decisions made by the Triborough Bridge Authority chairman Robert Moses "despotic" and "arbitrary."  A 1957 New York Times article also makes reference to the "delicate problem of tenant relocation." Four hundred and twenty buildings housing 522 families were demolished to build the Clearview Expressway, the Queens approach to the bridge.

The papers could have called it "female trouble," since women were a visible force behind the protests.  Headlines like  "Mothers Hold Up Road Work Again" and "12 Bronx Women Defy Bulldozer" described the tactics of women who were trying to derail bridge approach roadwork.  On the day of the bridge's official opening in 1961, the Times reported that "a group of women in Queens were prevented from taking positions on the bridge approach. The women were angry because they had lost their homes to the project, and their intention was to block the first traffic."

According to the MTA, the bridge recently underwent a nearly $100 million upgrade that included "replacing more than 140,000 feet of roadway deck and a major paint job that removed - under total environmental containment - all lead paint on the steel superstructure. The work, which is being done by Holmdel, N.J.-based contractor E.E. Cruz, is expected to be completed shortly, within budget and four months ahead of schedule."

Throgs Neck Bridge in 2008 (photo by Elipongo via Wikimedia Commons)

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