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George Washington Bridge Tower Lighting
Originally planned to be faced with concrete and granite, the exposed steel towers are illuminated by 760 metal halide light fixtures on major holidays.
When the George Washington Bridge first opened to traffic on October 25, 1931, its 3,500-foot (1,067 m) long main suspended span nearly doubled the length of the Ambassador Bridge, the longest bridge at the time. The George Washington Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1937 when the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco surpassed it by 700 feet (213 m).

Nearly fifty years before the George Washington Bridge was built, civil engineers had serious discussions about building a bridge across the Hudson River to connect Manhattan and New Jersey. In 1888, Gustav Lindenthal proposed a suspension bridge at 23rd Street with a main span of 2,850 feet (869 m) that would carry six railroad tracks. The following year, English engineer Max am Ende proposed a crescent arch with a span of 2,850 feet (869 m). In 1893, the New Jersey & New York Bridge Company proposed a 2,100-foot (640 m) long cantilever span at 70th Street.

The arch and cantilever bridge designs were rejected, the latter because the Secretary of War would not allow the construction of piers in the river. Although Lindenthal's plans for a suspension bridge were approved by the War Department, the Panic of 1893 hindered financing of a bridge and developments in electric railroad traction and underwater tunneling led to the construction of the North River Tunnels and Pennsylvania Station, bringing railroad tracks under the Hudson River into New York City.

Plans for a Hudson River crossing were revived in 1906 with the formation of an Interstate Bridge Commission by the governments of New York and New Jersey. After borings taken at 179th Street did not find favorable bedrock for bridge foundations, the commission began looking at a bridge at 59th Street, but ultimately opted for an underwater crossing. However, before the Holland Tunnel was finished in 1927, it was realized that another crossing would be needed. Gustav Lindenthal proposed a colossal 3,240-foot (988 m) long suspension bridge at 57th Street for the North River Bridge Company. The $200 million bridge would carry 20 highway lanes on the upper level and 12 railroad tracks on the lower level, all supported by eyebar chains.

George Washington Bridge
The cables on the New Jersey side are anchored directly into the Palisades, a rock outcropping on the west bank of the Hudson River.

In 1921, New Jersey Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen introduced a bill to create a corporation with the authority to construct a pontoon bridge between Alpine, New Jersey and Yonkers as a temporary crossing measure. The plan for a 5,020-foot (1,530 m) long pontoon bridge was dropped and New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, Jr. and New Jersey Governor George S. Silzer urged the newly-created Port of New York Authority to construct a Hudson River crossing. Preliminary designs for a bridge began in July 1925 and test borings were made at 178th Street. The site was chosen as the most desirable because of its topography and for its potential connections to adjacent roadways.

The George Washington Bridge was designed by Othmar H. Ammann, Hon.M.ASCE, who at the time was the Chief Engineer of the New York Port Authority. It was the first of several major long-span bridges that Ammann designed in New York City, including the Bayonne Bridge (1931), Triborough Bridge (1936), Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (1939), Throgs Neck Bridge (1961), and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (1964).

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 21, 1927 on both sides of the river and with 1,000 guests aboard the steamship De Witt Clinton anchored in the middle of the Hudson. Work began with the construction of the towers and anchorages. The world's largest cofferdams were constructed to excavate 80 feet (24 m) below the water level to create the foundations for the New Jersey tower. A conventional masonry anchorage weighing 260,000 tons (235,900 t) was built on the New York side, while on the New Jersey side, the main cables would be anchored directly into the rock of the Palisades. A total of 220,000 cubic yards (168,200 cubic meters) of bedrock were also excavated from the Palisades to create the western approach to the bridge.

George Washington Bridge
The GWB is one of the world's busiest bridges and carries a total of 14 lanes of traffic on its upper and lower levels.

Ironically the bridge's exposed steel towers, one of its most identifiable features, were never part of the original design. Cost cutting measures taken during the Great Depression to keep the construction cost at $60 million indefinitely postponed a plan by architect Cass Gilbert to encase the bridge's towers in concrete with granite facing. The exposed steelwork gained public acceptance and in 1947 French architect Le Corbusier called the George Washington Bridge ''the most beautiful bridge in the world.' The two 604-foot (184 m) high towers consist of 43,070 tons (39,000 t) of steelwork held together by more than a million rivets and their open steel construction demonstrated their aesthetic beauty. In 2000, the Port Authority installed 760 metal halide light fixtures that are used to illuminate the interior of the steel towers on major holidays.

Work on the steel cables began on July 14, 1929 and the final wire was spun on August 7, 1930. A total of 107,000 miles (172,200 km) of wire fabricated by the John A. Roebling's Sons Company were used in the cables, more than four times the combined amount used in the seven largest suspension bridges of the time: the Ambassador Bridge, Bear Mountain Bridge, Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Poughkeepsie Bridge, and Williamsburg Bridge. Each of the four cables is comprised of 26,474 pencil-thin wires.

While the towers and cables were designed to support the future addition of a lower level to expand capacity, the original bridge had single deck and did not include a stiffening truss (unlike other types of suspension bridges built in that era). A stiffening truss was not necessary because the long roadway and cables provided enough dead weight to provide stability for the bridge deck, and the short side spans acted like cable stays, further reducing its flexibility.

Previously known as the "Hudson River Bridge" or the "Fort Washington-Fort Lee Suspension Bridge," the bridge was officially named the George Washington Bridge by the Port of New York Authority on April 23, 1931.

Completed eight months ahead of schedule and under budget, a dedication ceremony for the George Washington Bridge was held on October 24, 1931. The ceremony was chaired by Port Authority chairman John F. Galvin and included Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New Jersey Governor Morgan F. Larson, Manhattan Borough President Samuel Levy, and Fort Lee Mayor Louis F. Hoebel. Nearly 30,000 spectators were on hand to watch the dedication and after the ceremony the bridge was opened to pedestrians for a four-hour period. Pedestrians originally had to pay a 10¢ toll to cross the bridge, which was later reduced to 5¢ and discontinued altogether on May 30, 1940.

George Washington Bridge Flag
The largest free-flying American flag hangs from the GWB's New Jersey tower on major holidays.

One of the busiest bridges in the world, the George Washington Bridge originally carried six lanes of traffic when it opened to traffic on October 25, 1931. Two more lanes were added to the center median in 1946. Although Ammann's original design made a provision for the addition of a lower deck to carry four rapid transit tracks, no interest was taken by railroads in operating commuter service across the bridge and the growing volumes of cars, trucks and buses eventually made the addition of more traffic lanes a necessity.

The lower level of the George Washington Bridge opened on August 29, 1962. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes attended the dedication ceremony in the midpoint of the bridge that included the unveiling of a bronze bust of bridge designer Othmar H. Ammann (the bust is now on display in the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, which opened above the Trans-Manhattan Expressway in 1963). The expansion project received an Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award of Merit from ASCE in 1963.

The six lanes on the lower level increased the bridge's capacity by 75 percent, making the George Washington Bridge the only suspension bridge in the world with 14 lanes. The addition of the lower level (and the stiffening truss connecting it to the upper level) coincided with the opening of a series of approach roads that included the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, ramps to the Henry Hudson Parkway, Riverside Drive, Palisades Parkway, US Routes 1, 9, and 36, and New Jersey Route 46. The Alexander Hamilton Bridge was opened later in the year to relieve traffic conditions on the Washington Bridge across the Harlem River, while on the New Jersey site the Bergen-Passaic Expressway was under construction and opened two years later.

Today, the George Washington Bridge remains an important link in the New York City regional highway system, carrying Interstate 95 and US Routes 1 and 9 across the Hudson River between Fort Washington in Manhattan and Fort Lee in New Jersey. The opening of the bridge in 1931 also led to a substantial amount of industrial and residential development in Bergen County, New Jersey.

George Washington Bridge Plaque
A bronze plaque designating the GW Bridge as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark was unveiled on the bridge's 50th anniversary in 1981.

In 1953, the George Washington Bridge was announced as the top vote-getter by local civil engineers in The Seven Engineering Wonders of the New York Metropolitan Area As Selected by the Members of the Metropolitan Section, published by the ASCE Met Section. In the Society's centennial year of 1952, the Metropolitan Section, along with local ASCE sections in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Tacoma, and Washington, D.C., undertook the designation of their respective "Seven Wonders."

The 50th Anniversary of the dedication of the George Washington Bridge was celebrated on October 24, 1981. On this day, ASCE Met Section President Egbert R. Hardesty presented a bronze plaque to Alan Sagner, Chairman of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, during a ceremony to signify designation of the magnificent bridge by the ASCE National Board of Direction as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.