Williamsburg Bridge Opens
On December 19, 1903, New Yorkers celebrated the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge, the second of three steel-frame suspension bridges to span the East River.
Designed by Leffert L. Buck and Henry Hornbostel, it had taken over seven years to complete. Built to alleviate traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and to provide a link between Manhattan and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the 1,600 foot Williamsburg Bridge was the world's longest suspension bridge until the 1920s.
Originally open to horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and pedestrians, the Williamsburg Bridge soon became a vital transportation route for trolleys and trains, spurring the growth of Brooklyn's working-class neighborhoods. In the 1920s, the bridge was reconfigured to accommodate eight lanes of traffic. Today, it carries over 140,000 vehicles per day and some 100,000 subway riders.
The Williamsburg Bridge is a suspension bridge in New York City across the East River connecting the Lower East Side of Manhattan at Delancey Street with the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn on Long Island at Broadway near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (Interstate 278). It once carried New York State Route 27A and later Interstate 78.
Construction on the bridge, the second to cross this river, began in 1896, with Leffert L. Buck as chief engineer, Henry Hornbostel as architect and Holton D. Robinson as assistant engineer, and the bridge opened on December 19, 1903 at a cost of $12,000,000. At the time it was constructed, the Williamsburg Bridge set the record for the longest suspension bridge span on Earth. The record fell in 1924, when the Bear Mountain Bridge was completed. It is an unconventional structure, as suspension bridges go; though the main span hangs from cables in the usual manner, the side spans leading to the approaches are cantilevered, drawing no support from the cables above. The main span of the bridge is 1600 feet (488 m) long. The entire bridge is 7308 feet (2227 m) long between cable anchor terminals, and the deck is 118 feet (36 m) wide. The height at the center of the bridge is 135 feet (41 m) and each tower is 335 feet (102 m); these measurements taken from the river's surface at high water mark.
This bridge and the Manhattan Bridge are the only suspension bridges in New York City that still carry both automobile and rail traffic. In addition to this two-track rail line, connecting the New York City Subway's BMT Nassau Street Line and BMT Jamaica Line, there were once two sets of trolley tracks.
The Brooklyn landing is between Grand Street and Broadway, which both had ferries at the time. Both withered and went out of business in the following years.
The bridge has been under reconstruction since the 1980s, largely to repair damage caused by decades of deferred maintenance. The cast iron stairway on the Manhattan side, and the steep ramp from Driggs Avenue on the Williamsburg side to the footwalks, were replaced to allow handicapped access in the 1990s. The bridge celebrated its 100th anniversary in December 2003.
No tolls are charged for motor vehicles to use the bridge.
Had the Lower Manhattan Expressway been built, the Williamsburg Bridge would have obtained the Interstate 78 designation.