Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

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Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.jpg
The Ver­ra­za­no-Nar­rows Bridge, look­ing tow­ard Sta­ten Is­land from Brook­lyn.
Coordinates 40°36′23″N 74°02′44″W / 40.60639°N 74.04556°W / 40.60639; -74.04556Coordinates: 40°36′23″N 74°02′44″W / 40.60639°N 74.04556°W / 40.60639; -74.04556
Carries 12 lanes (6 upper; 6 lower) of I-278
Crosses The Narrows
Locale New York City (Staten IslandBrooklyn), New York, U.S.
Other name(s) Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Verrazano Bridge
Maintained by MTA Bridges and Tunnels
Total length 13,700 feet (4,176 m)
Width 103 feet (31 m)
Height 649.68 feet (198 m)
Longest span 4,260 feet (1,298 m)
Clearance above 15 feet (4.57 m) (upper level)
14.4 feet (4.39 m) (lower level)
Clearance below 228 feet (69.5 m) at mean high water[1]
Designer Othmar Ammann
Construction start August 13, 1959; 58 years ago (1959-08-13)
Opened November 21, 1964; 53 years ago (1964-11-21) (upper level)
June 28, 1969; 48 years ago (1969-06-28) (lower level)
Daily traffic 189,962 (2008)[2]
Toll As of March 19, 2017, $17.00 (non-New York E-ZPass and non-E-Zpass users; billed by mail); $11.52 (New York E-ZPass)
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is located in New York City
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is located in New York
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (New York)
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is located in the US
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (the US)

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a double-decked suspension bridge that connects the New York City boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. It spans The Narrows, a body of water connecting the relatively protected upper bay with the larger, wide open lower bay.

The bridge is named for the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who in 1524 became the first documented European explorer to enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River.[3] It has a central span of 4,260 feet (1,298 m) and was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its completion in 1964 until it was surpassed by the Humber Bridge in the United Kingdom in 1981. It has the 13th longest main span in the world, and the longest in the Americas. Its towers can be seen throughout New York City and in New Jersey.

The bridge marks the gateway to New York Harbor. All ships arriving at the Port of New York and New Jersey pass underneath the bridge and must therefore be built to accommodate the clearance under it.[3] Since 1976, the Staten Island end of the bridge has been the starting point of the New York City Marathon.[4]


The Ver­ra­za­no Bridge, as seen from Brook­lyn dur­ing sun­set
Ver­ra­za­no Bridge tow­er and cab­les dur­ing con­struct­ion in late 1960 with­out ri­sers or road­bed

The bridge was the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses, the New York City Parks Commissioner and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. He had long desired the span as a means of completing the expressway system he had championed during his tenure. It was also the last project designed by Chief Engineer Othmar Ammann, who had designed most of the other major crossings into and within New York City, including the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, and the Throgs Neck Bridge. The plans to build the bridge caused considerable controversy in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge because many families had settled in homes in the area where the bridge now stands and were forced to relocate.

Construction on the bridge began August 13, 1959, and the upper deck was opened on November 21, 1964, at a cost of $320 million in 1964 dollars, equivalent to $2,525 million in present dollars.[5][6] Three men died building the bridge, including 58-year-old Paul Bassett[7] and 19-year-old Gerard McKee. The latter's death became the subject of a chapter of The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a book written by Gay Talese.[8]:77-92[9]

Ver­ra­za­no-Nar­rows Bridge com­mem­or­a­tive stamp, first placed on sale in Sta­ten Is­land on No­vem­ber 21, 1964, in con­junct­ion with the bridge's o­pen­ing

Individuals involved in construction included senior partner Othmar Ammann; chief engineer Milton Brumer; project engineers Herb Rothman and Frank L. Stahl; design engineer Leopold Just; engineer of construction John West Kinney; and safety engineer Alonzo Dickinson.

Fort Lafayette, an island coastal fortification in New York Harbor, built next to Fort Hamilton at the southern tip of what is now Bay Ridge, was destroyed as part of the bridge's construction in 1960; the Brooklyn-side bridge pillars now occupy the fort's former foundation.

New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony, which was attended by over 5,000 people. He was the first person to be driven over the bridge.[10] The lower deck opened on June 28, 1969.[11] The bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world (previously held by the Golden Gate Bridge) from 1964 until 1981, when it was surpassed by the Humber Bridge in England.

In 2009, all 262 of the mercury vapor fixtures in the bridge's necklace lighting were replaced with energy efficient light-emitting diodes, years before the rest of New York City started to get LED streetlights.[12]

In 2014, the city began a major, $1.5-billion reconstruction project on the bridge, which is expected to take up to 25 years.[13] The first phase, which costs $235 million and lasts until 2017, includes replacing ramps, removing the divider on the upper deck, and adding a seventh lane on the upper deck, which is to be used as a high-occupancy vehicle lane.[14][15] After the upper deck is replaced, then parts of the lower deck will be replaced, but this necessitates the closure of the lower deck during construction; hence, the MTA opted to replace the upper deck first to add more capacity. The Brooklyn ramps to the bridge are also being rebuilt.[13]

Verrazano Bridge Memorial[edit]

The Verrazano Bridge Memorial project was started by children and grandchildren of the civil engineers, architects, site engineers, technicians, and New York City municipal employees who worked with Othmar H. Ammann and his staff during the various phases of design and construction, from 1958 to 1964.

Researchers taking part in this collaborative project will conduct in-depth interviews with surviving participants involved in the conception and construction of the Verrazano Bridge to compile an oral history of the architectural landmark. On November 29, 2018, a commemorative plaque, in tribute to all the people associated with the construction of the bridge, will be unveiled.[16]


The bridge is owned by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority bondholders who paid for the bridge at its construction; these bondholders are being repaid with tolls collected from vehicles crossing the bridge. It is operated by MTA Bridges and Tunnels, an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interstate 278 passes over the bridge, connecting the Staten Island Expressway with the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway. The Verrazano, in combination with the other three Staten Island road bridges, created a new way for commuters and travelers to reach Brooklyn, Long Island, and Manhattan by car from New Jersey. The bridge carries more traffic than the Outerbridge Crossing and the Goethals Bridge, both of which connect Staten Island with New Jersey.


Queen Mar­y 2 rad­ar mast, show­ing clear­ance

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation:

  • Each of the two towers contains 1 million bolts and 3 million rivets.[3]
  • The diameter of each of the four suspension cables is 36 inches (914 mm). Each cable is composed of 26,108 wires amounting to a total of 143,000 miles (230,136 km) in length.[3]
  • Because of the height of the towers (693 ft or 211 m) and their distance apart (4,260 ft or 1,298 m), the curvature of the Earth's surface had to be taken into account when designing the bridge—the towers are 1 58 inches (41.275 mm) farther apart at their tops than at their bases; they are not parallel to each other.[3][17]
  • Because of thermal expansion of the steel cables, the bridge roadway is 12 feet (3.66 m) lower in summer than in winter.[3][18]

The bridge is affected by weather more than any other bridge in the city because of its size and isolated location close to the open ocean; it is occasionally closed, either partially or entirely, during strong wind and snow storms. Additionally, the bridge's two towers are the tallest structures in New York City outside of Manhattan, and are taller than the tallest non-Manhattan building, the 658-foot (201 m) One Court Square in Queens; its towers are also taller than the 604-foot (184 m) towers of the next tallest New York bridge, the George Washington Bridge. Because of the bridge's location, cruise ships and container ships that dock in New York City must be built to accommodate the clearance under the bridge. For example, the RMS Queen Mary 2 was designed with a flatter funnel to pass under the bridge, and has 13 feet (3.96 m) of clearance under the bridge during high tide.[3][19]

Numerous birds nest or roost on the bridge, including breeding peregrine falcons.[20]


En­try mon­u­ment, show­ing an un­hy­phen­at­ed name

The naming of the bridge for Verrazzano was controversial. It was first proposed in 1951 by the Italian Historical Society of America, when the bridge was in the planning stage. After Robert Moses turned down the initial proposal, the society undertook a public relations campaign to re-establish the reputation of the largely forgotten Verrazzano and to promote the idea of naming the bridge for him. The campaign was largely the effort of Society director John N. LaCorte, who in 1954 successfully lobbied New York Governor W. Averell Harriman to proclaim April 17 (the anniversary of Verrazzano's arrival in the harbor) as Verrazzano Day. Subsequent efforts by LaCorte resulted in similar proclamations by governors of states along the East Coast. After these successes, LaCorte reapproached the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, but was turned down a second time. The manager of the authority, backed by Moses, said the name was too long and that he had never heard of Verrazzano.[21]

The society later succeeded in lobbying to get a bill introduced in the New York State Assembly that would name the bridge for the explorer. After the introduction of the bill, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce joined the society in promoting the name. The bill was signed into law in 1960 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller.[22] Although the controversy seemed settled, the naming issue rose again in the last year of construction after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A petition to name the bridge for Kennedy received thousands of signatures. In response, LaCorte contacted United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the president's brother, who told LaCorte that he would make sure the bridge would not be named for his brother. (Idlewild Airport, New York's major international airport, was renamed after Kennedy instead.)[21]

In part due to discrimination against Italian-Americans, the bridge's official name was widely ignored by local news outlets at the time of the dedication. Some radio announcers and newspapers omitted any reference to Verrazzano, referring to the bridge as the Narrows Bridge, or the Brooklyn–Staten Island Bridge. The society continued its lobbying efforts to promote the name in the following years until the name became firmly established. Another ethnic slur for bridge was its nickname as the "Guinea Gangplank", referring to the Italian-Americans who subsequently moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island.[8]:33

In June 2016, St. Francis College student Robert Nash[23] started a petition to correctly spell Giovanni da Verrazzano's name on the bridge. The petition has gained support from politicians including Senator Martin Golden and Senator Andrew Lanza. The petition has also been supported by actors and celebrities Robert DeNiro, Tony Gemignani, and Joe D'Onofrio.[24] The results of the petition are ongoing.[25][26][27] On December 7, 2016, Senators Golden and Lanza sent letters to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. They recommended that the bridge be spelled correctly; an MTA spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the letter.[24][28]


Ver­ra­za­no-Nar­rows Bridge, as seen from Brook­lyn at night

As of March 19, 2017, drivers pay the one-way toll (paid westbound into Staten Island only) $17.00 per car or $7.00 per motorcycle. E-ZPass users with transponders issued by the New York E ZPass Customer Service Center pay $11.52 per car or $5.00 per motorcycle; a five-axle truck pays $92, or $56.80 with NY E-ZPass. There is a Staten Island Resident Program that provides a discounted rate of $5.50 to registered residents of Staten Island using E-ZPass. Holders of transponders issued elsewhere get no discount. All E-ZPass users with transponders not issued by the New York E-ZPass Customer Service Center are required to pay the Toll-by-mail rates.[29]

From its opening until 1986, the toll was collected in both directions. In 1985, after Staten Island residents complained about pollution from idling vehicles, Representative Guy V. Molinari co-sponsored a bill that would require the MTA to collect the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge's toll in the Staten Island-bound direction only.[30] In December of that year, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill that prohibited the MTA from collecting tolls from Brooklyn-bound vehicles,[31] under penalty of a loss of highway funding.[32] Accordingly, in March 1986, the MTA started a pilot program where it charged a $3.50 toll for Staten Island-bound vehicles rather than charging a $1.75 toll in both directions.[33][34] The pilot program was extended to six months, but it was controversial due to the dubious benefits involved.[35] The new toll plan not only caused a drop in revenues,[36] but also caused congestion in Manhattan and Brooklyn[37] and air pollution in Manhattan.[38] In 1987, the MTA supported removing the one-way toll because it reduced MTA revenues by $7 million a year, since drivers were going through New Jersey to avoid paying the toll.[39] In 1990, it was noted that about 455,000 more eastbound vehicles per year were using the bridge's eastbound lanes compared to before the toll reconfiguration, but that this was heavily outweighed by the 1.5 million fewer westbound vehicles per year.[32]

In 2010, eight of the eleven unused Brooklyn-bound toll booths were removed in the first phase of a project to improve traffic flow at the toll plaza.[40] On February 2, 2012, the last of the eastbound tollbooths was removed.[41][42] To this day, tolls are still collected only in the Staten Island-bound direction.[29]

An urban legend has it that tolls were to be abolished once the bridge's construction bonds were paid off. In November 2014, The New York Times described the efforts[43] of the Staten Island Advance to dispel this mistaken belief.[44]

Open-road cashless tolling began on July 8, 2017.[45] The tollbooths were dismantled, and drivers are no longer able to pay cash at the bridge. Instead, there are cameras mounted onto new overhead gantries near where the booths were located.[46][47] Drivers without E-ZPass will have a picture of their license plate taken, and the toll will be mailed to them. For E-ZPass users, sensors will detect their transponders wirelessly.[46][47]

Bridge usage[edit]

Coast Guard on pat­rol in Up­per New York Bay, Ver­ra­za­no-Nar­rows Bridge span­ning the Nar­rows bet­ween Brook­lyn (left) and Stat­en Is­land (right) in back­ground

In 2008, about 190,000 vehicles used the bridge per day on average.[2] In 2011, Transportation for America rated the bridge as New York's most dangerous, because of the combination of deterioration and the 170,000 people who cross it per day.[48] The MTA responded that the bridge, which was the state's newest large bridge and its longest, was structurally sound, and that the bridge had passed its most recent inspection. The MTA attributed Transportation for America's results to a "misinterpretation of inspection records".[49]

As the bridge was not built with a pedestrian walkway, non-motorized transportation is limited to using the bridge during special events such as the New York City Marathon and Five Boro Bike Tour.[50] In 1993 the New York City Department of City Planning called for a footpath across the bridge as part of their Greenway Plan for New York City.[51] In 1997 the DCP released a feasibility study stating that two footpaths running between the suspender ropes along the upper level, separated for pedestrian and cyclist use, would cost a minimum of $26.5 million. The MTA at the time expressed concern about the "safety and liability inherent in any strategy that introduces pedestrian and bicycle access" to the bridge.[52] Recently, residents living on both ends of the bridge have lobbied for pedestrian access. In October 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to look into establishing the long-awaited pedestrian and bicycle access.[53] The Harbor Ring Committee was formed in 2011 to advocate for the completion of the Harbor Ring route – a 50-mile path around New York Harbor, including a footpath across the Verrazano. In spring 2013 they began an on-line petition that generated more than 2,500 signatures, as well as an organizational sign-on letter with the support of 16 regional and local advocacy and planning organizations. On October 2, 2013 the MTA announced as part of its 2015–2034 Capital Needs Assessment that it would include a feasibility study for installing a pathway on the Verrazano.[54]

Signs at both ends of the bridge forbid photography and video taping; however, it is not certain whether the signs are intended to stop people from stopping on the bridge or ban photography and videography even from moving cars. Due to numerous suicide attempts, a sign that says "Life Is Worth Living" along with a suicide hotline has been installed on the Staten Island approach.

The bridge carries two local bus routes (counting the S93 limited-stop service as "local") and one Select Bus Service (SBS) route operated by MTA Regional Bus Operations: the S53, S79 SBS, S93 connect Staten Island with Brooklyn. The bridge also carries 17 express bus routes that connect Staten Island with Manhattan and are also operated by New York City Transit. They are the X1, X2, X3, X4, X5, X7, X8, X9, X10, X11, X12, X14, X15, X17, X19, X31, X42.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Fort Wadsworth
Pan­o­rama of the bay with Fort Wads­worth (fore­ground) on the Nar­rows, un­der the Ver­ra­za­no-Nar­rows Bridge



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Further reading

External links[edit]