2011-07-06 / Front Page

RFK Bridge Gets $1 B Capital Improvement, Project To Take 15 Years; GAHS 75th Anniversary Photo Exhibit

View from atop the Queens tower of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge’s Queens suspension span, looking down on Ward’s end of Randall’s Island.  

View from atop the Queens tower of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge’s Queens suspension span, looking down on Ward’s end of Randall’s Island.   The sprawling Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, which connects Manhattan, The Bronx and Queens and serves a combined average 170,000 vehicles daily, will undergo nearly $1 billion in capital improvements over the next 15 years in order to make sure the 75-year-old bridge continues to be able to meet 21st century traffic demands.
 Long-term work includes completely reconstructing the bridge structures that support the Manhattan and Bronx toll plazas, as well as several smaller projects that will focus on rehabilitating or replacing the bridge’s seven ramps.
 “Motorists will see work going on at the RFK Bridge well into the next decade,” Bridges and Tunnels President Jim Ferrara said. “Each project is vitally important to ensure that the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge continues to be a vibrant link in the region’s transportation network.”
 The RFK Bridge is the oldest of the agency’s seven bridges and two tunnels. It opened to traffic on July 11, 1936 during the height of the Great Depression, and was the first bridge in New York City designed and exclusively built for the automobile. The bridge also offers pedestrian access.
 Its three spans include the suspension span over the East River, the Harlem River lift span, the Bronx truss over Bronx Kills, and 14 miles of roadways that merge at a junction structure on Randall’s Island where traffic is then distributed to and from Manhattan, Queens and The Bronx. Formerly called the Triborough Bridge, it was renamed in honor of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in November 2008.Night-time view of the RFK’s Queens suspension span with Manhattan skyline in background.Photos MTA’s Patrick CashinNight-time view of the RFK’s Queens suspension span with Manhattan skyline in background.Photos MTA’s Patrick Cashin
 “It is a massive challenge maintaining and caring for 2.6 million square feet of roadway decking and infrastructure while maintaining traffic for the nearly 60 million cars and trucks that go through the Bronx and Manhattan plazas each year,”  said MTA Bridges and Tunnels Chief Engineer Joe Keane. “Each project is designed to minimize customer impact by working off-peak when possible and safely maintaining as many lanes of traffic as we can.”
 The largest portion of the estimated $1 billion improvements is an estimated $700 million for reconstruction of bridge structures supporting the Manhattan and Bronx toll plazas. Design work on the Bronx plaza reconstruction is expected to begin by the end of 2011 with construction beginning in 2014. The full reconstruction of the Manhattan plaza is currently slated as part of the 2015-2019 Capital plan, with actual roadway work beginning in late 2019.
 Among the Capital Improvement projects that drivers will immediately begin seeing is the removal and replacement of 400,000 square feet of old asphalt on the Manhattan toll plaza. Once the old asphalt is removed, a new type of rubberized asphalt will be applied to help prevent water from intruding into the concrete deck, and provide a smoother riding surface for customers. This work, in conjunction with additional, more extensive interim repairs scheduled for 2014, will help extend the life of the roadway until full reconstruction commences in 2019. This $5.8 million project will be done in two phases and be completed by fall.
 Other work that is currently underway or planned includes:
• $13 million project to replace the bonded wearing surface on the East River suspension spans, the Harlem River lift span and the Bronx truss span. This project is ongoing at night during off-peak hours and will be completed in the fall.
• $12 million project to design and build the deck replacement on the 12,000-square-foot Harlem River Drive southbound exit ramp onto the bridge at East 125th Street. The old ramp will be closed after Labor Day. A temporary on-grade exit ramp from the southbound Harlem River Drive onto a short detour through local streets will be in place while work is done. The ramp is expected to reopen by the end of the year.
 • $5 million to replace 40,000 square feet of decking on the Queens-to-Manhattan ramp. This work is underway with two lanes of traffic being maintained during peak driving times. Work will be completed by the end of 2011.
• $1 million for localized repairs on 10,000 square feet of repairs at the Manhattan and Bronx toll plazas. This work has been completed.
• $900,000 to repair and replace 39,000 square feet of protective asphalt overlay on the Queens-to-Bronx Randall’s Island ramp and Randall’s Island-to-Queens ramp. Work is scheduled to begin late summer and be completed by November.
• $52 million for a project to reconstruct the 80,000-square foot Manhattan-to-Queens ramp. Design work will begin in 2012, actual roadway work in 2013 with completion by the end of 2014. Two lanes of traffic will be maintained on this ramp for most of the reconstruction to minimize impact to traffic.
• $49 million project to perform interim repairs to the Manhattan plaza roadway deck.  These repairs will ensure a safe and smooth riding surface for our customers until complete reconstruction can take place in 2019.
 • $95 million project for the reconstruction of the East 124th/125th Street Manhattan entrance/exit ramps leading onto and off the bridge. Design is expected to begin in 2012 with reconstruction work beginning on the roadway in the fall of 2014.
• $96 million project for reconstruction of the FDR ramp.  Design is expected to begin in 2012 with reconstruction work beginning on the roadway in 2016.
 “While customers will see a lot of activity at the RFK Bridge for many years, in the end our goal is to keep the bridge part of the New York City landscape for many decades to come,” RFK Facility Engineer Rocco D’Angelo said. “We appreciate our customers’ patience while these improvements are underway.”
RFK Bridge 75th Anniversary To Be Celebrated July 11: Photo Exhibit, Tour, Oral History Project Planned
The Greater Astoria Historical Society in cooperation with  MTA Bridges and Tunnels, will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the RFK/Triborough Bridge on Monday, July 11 with the opening of a  photography exhibit entitled, ”A Planners Dream, an Engineer’s Triumph, a Legacy to our City”, featuring images  rarely seen by the public. The exhibit, curated by archivists from the MTA Bridges and Tunnels and the Greater Astoria Historical Society, will be on display at Quinn’s Gallery in the main lecture hall at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor, Long Island City. For more information, visit www.astorialic.org or call 718-278-0700.
The anniversary day will begin with a preview for press and elected officials from the three boroughs at 2 p.m. followed that evening at 7 p.m. by a history roundtable hosted by the society.
 The roundtable panelists will include representatives from the Regional Plan Association, a senior bridge engineer, and historians from Manhattan, Queens, and The Bronx. The public is invited to attend and participate in the question and answer period afterwards. This discussion should be a fascinating opportunity to learn about one of the greatest achievements of engineering history – a monument to the fulfilled vision of Greater New York – a powerful symbol of an urban dream in the backyards of three boroughs.
Although the bridge was open for traffic in July, 1936, all the final touches were not completed until September of the following year. To commemorate this event, on Saturday, September 17, there will be walking tours with groups starting in The Bronx and Manhattan, meeting at the bridge’s nexus on Randall’s Island, and to symbolize the planner’s vision, march together to the site of the original groundbreaking in Astoria Park where there will be a brief program. This event is being sponsored by the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS), The Bronx Historical Society, Forgotten New York and MTA Bridges and Tunnels. Check their Web sites for times and details about the event.
 Finally, to pay tribute the enduring legacy of the bridge, an oral living history project is underway. Anyone interested in participating in the oral history project is invited to send an email with a brief description of their memory to bridgememories@mtabt.org, or call 646-252-7420. Please include the best time to reach you and whether you prefer to be contacted by phone or email. Photos are welcome as well. A copy of the oral histories that are collected will be available to the public at the Greater Astoria Historical Society and will be shared with organizations in the Bronx and Manhattan.
 The bridge, which opened on July 11, 1936, was a significant public works project during the Great Depression.  As work neared completion about 2,800 men toiled at the construction site on a typical day. Across the country, many times this number worked in steel mills, fabricating shops, lumber mills and concrete plants. During the height of the Depression, communities across the nation were economically revitalized by the project.
 Technically, the Triborough is really three bridges, a viaduct and nearly 14 miles of approach roadways linking Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx and Randall/Ward’s Island. When built, the span over the Harlem River, boasting a six-lane highway as long as a football field, was the largest vertical-lift bridge in the world. The span over The Bronx Kills is half that length, and the mile long span over the Hell Gate to Astoria remains one of the largest suspension bridges of its kind. These superlatives aside, the true genius of this bridge was found in the center, where twenty-two lanes meeting at a complex as large as a railroad switchyard, created, in Robert Caro’s memorable words, a “traffic machine”. In 75 years of bridge building it has not been equaled.
 In its first full year of operations in 1937, 11 million vehicles crossed the Triborough Bridge. In 2010, more than 60 million vehicles used the bridge, now known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

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