George Washington Bridge Then and Now

There are several beautiful bridges in New York City. The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world.The Verrazano Bridge is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. However, there is one bridge on the upper west side of Manhattan that does not get as much recognition. This bridge is the only bridge in the city that connects New York to another State. This bridge is the George Washington Bridge and it has a very interesting history.

Construction on the George Washington Bridge started in 1927. The Bridge was designed by Othmar Ammann, a swiss architect. When Ammann came over to the states he started working with Gustav Lindenthal, a famous bridge architect. Lindenthal wanted to build a bridge that connected New York and New Jersey but his vision was too complex; he wanted the bridge to carry several railroad tracks as well as a pedestrian walkway. Lindenthal’s idea was too ambitious and expensive. Ammann thought the bridge should be simple and submitted a design to the Port of New York Authority and it was eventually chosen.

Othmar Ammann and the bridge Source:

The Bridge was constructed in several phases. Construction workers first built the two towers of the bridge. Next the workers strung the main cables over the towers from both sides of the shore. Workers then hung steel suspenders from the cables, which would support the roadway. The last step was to build the roadway and hang it from the suspenders. Ammann designed the two towers to be covered in granite but it was eventually decided that it was best to leave the steel frames bare because it would cost too much money and the country was in the Great Depression.


After four years of hard work, the George Washington Bridge was inaugurated and opened to the public on October 25, 1931.

Gov. Morgan F. Larson of New Jersey and Gov. Franklin Roosevelt of New York at the inauguration. Source:


In its first full year of operation, the bridge served more than 5.5 million vehicles. At the time, the bridge had the longest center span in the world.

The George Washington Bridge will turn 81 years old this year. The biggest difference between the bridge now and when it first opened is the lower deck that was added in 1962.

With old age comes a lot of wear and tear so the George Washington Bridge is need of some repairs. In December 2011, the Port Authority authorized $15.5 million in repairs which will eventually rise to $1 billion. The biggest part of the repairs will be replacing the 592 vertical suspenders of the bridge. While the bridge is not in danger of collapse, most bridges need to get their suspenders replaced every 70 years so the port authority decided it was best to start the process now rather than at a time when it is critical and would cause lane closures. This process will take a long time because no more than three suspenders can be removed at a time or the bridge will destabilize. The suspenders will be replaced using a system that was used on the Golden Gate Bridge. A rolling platform will be placed on the main cables and workers will work from above to replace the suspenders. The restoration will also include cleaning the anchors that tie down the two towers, replacing broken wires in cables, and replacing dehumidifiers in the chambers of the anchors. The main cables of the bridge will also be cleaned by workers. The whole restoration is expected to take eight years and create 3,600 jobs.

The George Washington Bridge in the Evening. Photo by Semyon Toybis

The Port Authority runs a bus station right by the George Washington Bridge. This station is a big transportation and retail space but has been neglected since the 1960s. In 2008, a plan was put together by the Port Authority to renovate the station, but this plan fell through because of the recession. However in 2011, the Port Authority agreed to a deal to renovate the station with SJM Partners and Slayton Equities. The deal will bring a $183 million renovation to the station, of which the Port Authority will provide $80 million. The renovation is set to begin in January 2012 and will be completed in the spring of 2013.

This renovation deal is huge for the Washington Heights Community. Not only will the renovation bring jobs to the community, but the opening of new stores in the retail areas of the station will improve the local economy as well. SJM plans to lease a 25,000 square foot retail area to a supermarket, a 25,000 square foot retail area to a women’s clothing store, and a 20,000 square foot retail area to a fitness center. Other businesses will also be interested in setting up shop at this station because the station is exempt from property taxes because it is a public building and because it is located in a low income area. These stores will provide places to shop not only for Washington Heights residents, but also for residents of New Jersey who commute across the bridge to their workplaces in Washington Heights, such as the employees of the Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian hospital.

The George Washington Bridge has a long history. It has connected the people of New York and New Jersey and made an economic impact on both states and the Washington Heights neighborhood. The Bridge has been effected by both the depression and the recession. Although it is getting old, with the new renovations the George Washington Bridge will serve us for a long time.

Works Cited

Hansen, Brett. 2008. “Simplifying the Suspension: The George Washington Bridge.” Civil Engineering (08857024) 78, no. 9: 36-37. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost(accessed April 13, 2012).

Haughney, Christine. “George Washington Bridge Needs Replacement Surgery –” The New York Times. (accessed April 13, 2012).

“History – George Washington Bridge – The Port Authority of NY & NJ.” The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. (accessed April 13, 2012).

Hughes, C. J.. “George Washington Bridge Bus Station to Get Renovation –” The New York Times. (accessed May 13, 2012).

Maeder, Jay. “Naming Bridges Has Long Been Contentious –” (accessed April 13, 2012).

5 thoughts on “George Washington Bridge Then and Now

  1. You’ve included a lot of interesting content about the physical structure of the bridge, and the photos are great. However, I think your post would be stronger if you paid more attention to the historical and contemporary context of the bridge as well. For instance, did the onset of the Depression affect the bridge’s construction (and perhaps the decision not to use granite)? You can probably find some of this information in Robert Caro’s very detailed book about Robert Moses. Also, did it stimulate New York City’s economy at all? In terms of today, did the Recession impact the decision to begin renovations (as in, they received federal money, or whatever)? Did the bridge’s opening help stimulate the surrounding neighborhoods, like Washington Heights? You don’t have to answer all these questions, but I think your blog post would benefit from a little more of the human angle.

  2. I thought the whole piece was overall well done. I was especially surprised to see President F.D. Roosevelt at the inauguration, only to see his named prefaced by “governor” in the caption. Interesting how you caught the historical context of the picture, and when’s the last time a politician from New York won the Presidency? Professor Brooks does make a valid point in noting you seem to have missed the economic effect on the bridge’s outlying areas including the Washington Heights. As the G.W. is the most traversed bridge in the world in terms of traffic, it has especially wide-reaching economic impact on the Mid-Altantic/New England regions as a crossroads between geographies, economies, and cultures.

  3. I think this post provides a nice overview of the construction of the George Washington Bridge. I especially enjoyed reading about the repairs and restorations that will create jobs for many people in the next eight years or so. However, I do agree with Professor Brooks and Josh that the post will be more complete if you talked about the bridge’s effect on the economy or the economy on the construction of the bridge.

  4. I also liked the comprehensive history about the bridge. I thought that the way Ammann’s design was chosen over Lindenthal’s orignal design was very interesting. However, as Professor Brooks, Josh, and Hye Min previously mentioned, the post could benefit from an exploration of how the bridge was used in the past and now in the present. One thing you might want to consider researching is how much the bridge is used, in the past and now as well as compared to other bridges or modes of transportation that connect New York and New Jersey.

  5. please send me photo’s of the completion of the new projects new the gw bridge,plans if any. thanks p

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