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Triborough Bridge Project Print E-mail
Robert F. Kennedy Bridge
The suspended span of the RFK Bridge across the East River parallels the Hell Gate Bridge, a steel arch railroad bridge that opened in 1916.
The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge) connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The 3.5-mile (6 km) long complex of bridges is a major three-branched waterway crossing embracing several distinct structural types:

  • a suspension bridge across the Hell Gate (East River) between Queens and Wards Island with a main span of 1,380 feet (421 m);
  • a vertical lift bridge across the Harlem River between Manhattan and Randall's Island with a main span of 310 feet (94 m);
  • a truss bridge across the Bronx Kill between the Bronx and Randall's Island (designed to be convertible to a lift span) with a main span of 383 feet (117 m);
  • a 13,500-foot (4,115 m) long viaduct across Randall's and Wards Islands (two separate islands that were later joined after the Little Hell Gate was filled in); and
  • an innovative three-legged roadway interchange and toll plaza complex on Randall's Island.

When the Triborough Bridge opened on July 11, 1936, it included 14 miles (23 km) of arterial highway approaches, a unique feature at the time, as well as several urban planning and design features such as landscaping, parks, and recreational facilities. That same evening, 15,000 attendees took the Triborough Bridge to the opening night of Randall's Island Stadium and watched Jesse Owens qualify for the U.S. track and field team for the Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Triborough Bridge complex is an early exemplification of the complete planning and development of a major transportation project in an urban environment, a concept that has been copied many times in later projects throughout the world.

The Triborough Bridge was the first structure constructed by the Triborough Bridge Authority. The authority was created by the New York State Legislature in 1933 as a public benefit corporation to complete the bridge after the City abandoned its construction during the Great Depression. Headed by master builder Robert Moses, the authority grew into the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), which currently operates seven bridges and two tunnels in New York City. In 1968, the TBTA became part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as MTA Bridges and Tunnels.

Robert F. Kennedy Bridge
Ammann redesigned the towers to cut costs, but used the same foundations built before the Great Depression.

Construction of the bridge started on October 25, 1929—the day after "Black Thursday"—and was abandoned from 1930-1932 during the Great Depression. Robert Moses employed Othmar H. Amman to redesign the structure and cut costs. The design of the East River suspension span, originally developed by Arthur I. Perry, was modified from dual decks to a single deck, reducing the amount of main cables from four to two, while still retaining as much of the earlier design and constructed elements as possible. Having already designed the George Washington Bridge and Bayonne Bridge for the New York Port Authority, Othmar Ammann would later design three more bridges for the TBTA including the Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano-Narrows.

In the year of its fiftieth anniversary, the Triborough Bridge Project was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark on December 17, 1986. ASCE National President Daniel Barge, Jr. officiated at a special ceremony conducted at the bridge and presented a plaque to the late George Schoepfer, Executive Officer and Chief Engineer of the TBTA. The plaque was installed on the Queens approach to the East River suspension span.

The Triborough Bridge was officially renamed as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge on November 19, 2008, honoring the former U.S. senator from New York forty years after the year of his assassination.