Streams

New Willis Avenue Bridge Arrives in Harlem

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two barges, fastened together, chugged up the East River Monday morning, hauling the nearly 2,400-ton Willis Avenue Bridge replacement. Setting off at about 6:30 a.m., the 170-foot barge was guided by two tugboats, while a third, red, white and blue tugboat pulled the bulk of the load.

Racing against the tide, the 350-foot long bridge cruised up the river during flood tide at about five knots, hoping to beat the early afternoon ebb tide, when it would be nearly impossible for the heavy load to make it.

The $612 million project will replace the 109-year old Willis Avenue Bridge that currently connects the Major Deegan Expressway in the South Bronx to the FDR Drive in Harlem.

The new bridge, built in Coeymans, New York, was shipped 112 miles down the Hudson River earlier this month and moored in Bayonne, New Jersey until this morning. 

The U.S. Coast Guard was on hand to make sure other boats stayed at least 100 yards from the barge. Lieutenant Will George has been patrolling the waters around New York for over a year and was more impressed with the way the 170-foot barge moved sideways up the river than with the bridge itself.

"They usually transit length-wise, so it'd be a longer barge, but the way you see it right now, they're basically in a perpendicular formation where they're pushing more water, so, that's not a usual formation for a barge," George says.

At 9:00 a.m., the barge sidled up to the shore at Horn's Hook in front of Gracie Mansion, and took a break while a bridle was fastened. A banana-yellow tug boat nudged the side, keeping it in place. A commercial tug boat called the Sea Lion passed by, its passengers leaned over to watch the floating bridge.

By 9:40, the 103rd Street footbridge had lifted, allowing the barge to pass through, and by 10:30 the new bridge had passed under the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and pulled into the Bronx channel of the East River, where final preparations are being made for it's installation.

The Willis Avenue Bridge, which carries about 70,000 vehicles a day, will be completely replaced this August, and the Department of Transportation says it will be open to traffic this fall.

First spotting near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

First spotting near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Near Lower Manhattan
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Near Lower Manhattan

Passing the Statue of Liberty
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Passing the Statue of Liberty

The U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Will George points out the unique aspects of the barge
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Will George points out the unique aspects of the barge

The barge is steered by two tugboats in the back
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

The barge is steered by two tugboats in the back

Passing under the Manhattan Bridge
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Passing under the Manhattan Bridge

Barge passing under the 55-foot 103rd Street footbridge
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Barge passing under the 55-foot 103rd Street footbridge

Barge passing under the 55-foot Robert F. Kennedy Bridge
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Barge passing under the 55-foot Robert F. Kennedy Bridge

Final destination, 4.5 hours and 12 miles later at the Willis Avenue Bridge
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Final destination, 4.5 hours and 12 miles later at the Willis Avenue Bridge

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Comments [7]

PAULA WASSERFALL from DA BRONX

The Willis Ave. Bridge has been moved upststate to Costelloville, NY.

Oct. 13 2010 09:24 AM
MNN from san francisco

It seems folks in NYC like to do things the hard way. Moving it from upstate is more show biz than anything..the bridge could have been built in the open position on barges and spud piles.

Aug. 16 2010 01:13 PM
Beth

@smidge: Actually, they could do it in one night if they needed to. It's been done before on a lot of movable bridges like this one. Especially if the new bridge is the same, dimensionally, as the old bridge it's replacing. At the most they'd need two or three nights. However, only the supporting elements need to be in place for traffic to pass over it. Not much of the machinery needs to be "fully secured".

@Dan: The new Willis Ave bridge is actually a completely new bridge, and won't be in the same spot as the old one (it'll be they'll be side-by-side). So they can do all of the necessary work on the new one with traffic still on the old one and then, when the new one is ready, switch the traffic over.

Jul. 29 2010 09:34 AM
Andrea

Awesome to see the pictures. My husband was the Master of the Red and White tug pulling the bridge. Great job all the way around guys. Way to work together. Sounds like there will be some happy New Yorkers come fall.

Jul. 27 2010 06:16 PM
smidge

Dan S, you're not seriously thinking they can tear out the old bridge, lift the entire new bridge and safely secure it in a couple of nights. Possible, yes- if it were a stationary bridge. This one pivots, so there are a lot of moving parts that need to be properly secured. And I'm doubting they'll just open it right away. My guess is there will be many tests that need to be done to make sure it is 100% safe before a vehicle drives on it. Also, NYC has some of the tightest specifications to follow, so I'm sure everything will be triple-checked.

Jul. 27 2010 11:59 AM
Jagadish from New York

When I saw it sailing yesterday morning, I was awestruck by its size and the way it was transported. Good Job.

Jul. 27 2010 09:20 AM
Dan S. from The Bronx

The bridge will be replaced in August, but it won't be open to traffic until fall (one report I heard said November)? Does that mean that there will be no Willis Ave. Bridge available for a month or more, neither the old one or the new? I hate to think what traffic will be like during that time. If that is really the way it has to be done, then so be it, but I thought that they could install the new bridge and shift traffic over to it in a matter of days, possibly even in a single night, or at least over a weekend. Does anyone know the right answer as to how long there will be no crossing available at the Willis Ave. site? And just what are the "final adjustments" that were (according to one story) being done in Bayonne?

Jul. 26 2010 10:33 PM

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