By Neal Buccino, Media Relations Staff
To a triumphant chorus of honking horns at 5 a.m. yesterday, the first passenger cars from New York and New Jersey drove over the new, elevated roadway of the Bayonne Bridge, 215 feet above the Kill van Kull and 64 feet above the original bridge deck.
It was part of the Port Authority’s “Raise the Roadway” initiative to provide navigational clearance for larger container vessels now using the expanded Panama Canal that are expected to arrive at all agency port facilities later this year. And it’s a giant leap into the 21st century for an 85-year-old icon of beauty and strength in engineering.
“We’ve made history, for the Port Authority and for the region’s economic growth,” said Steven Plate, the Port Authority’s Chief of Major Capital Projects.
The opening of the new roadway also ushers in a new era for the historic span, as the Bayonne Bridge becomes the first Port Authority facility to go to all-cashless tolling.
The project, a joint venture of the Port Authority and Skanska/Koch/Kiewit Infrastructure Co. (JV), marks an innovative milestone: the construction of a bridge roadway deck above the existing roadway, with limited disruption to traffic on the lower deck.
The roadway opening wasn’t a major milestone only for Port Authority officials and the contracting team. Francis Cardamone, a proud Staten Islander, was the first driver over the new span. For Cardamone, the Bayonne Bridge has long been a source of civic pride, and he showed up at 3 a.m. yesterday to be first in line.
“I really wanted to honor the men and women who made this (new roadway) possible,” Cardamone said. “It’s a living testament, really, to the engineers who designed the new span and the workers – skilled American labor at its finest — who constructed it.”
The new structure also maintains the classic steel arch, and the integrity of master bridge builder Othmar Ammann’s original design, which has made the Bayonne Bridge an architectural marvel since it opened as what was then the world’s longest steel arch bridge. Now that traffic has moved to the new span, the original lower roadway will be removed.
That will make it possible for today’s larger, more efficient and more environmentally friendly container ships to pass beneath the bridge enroute to Port Newark/Elizabeth and Howland Hook. With the recent harbor deepening program and other improvements, it will help ensure the East Coast’s largest port continues to grow as a strong global competitor and job creator.
“This project comes with a tremendous responsibility,” Plate said. “Othmar Ammann was one of the greatest bridge builders of the 20th century and the Bayonne Bridge was his magnum opus. So it’s a bit like restoring the Sistine Chapel.”