The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a double-decked suspension bridge that connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York City at The Narrows, the reach connecting the relatively protected upper bay with the larger lower bay.
The bridge is named for both the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first known European navigator to enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River , and for the body of water it spans: The Narrows. It has a center span of 4,260 feet (1,298 m) and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1964, until it was surpassed by the Humber Bridge in the United Kingdom in 1981. It now has the eighth longest center span in the world, and is still the longest bridge span in the Americas. Its massive towers can be seen throughout a good part of the New York metropolitan area, including from spots in all five boroughs of New York City. The bridge is also easily seen from points in New Jersey including a great viewpoint from the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge Township , New Jersey.
The bridge furnishes a critical link in the local and regional highway system. Since 1976, it has been the starting point of the New York City Marathon. The bridge marks the gateway to New York Harbor; all cruise ships and most container ships arriving at the Port of New York and New Jersey must pass underneath the bridge and thus must be built to accommodate the clearance under the bridge. This is most notable in the case of the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary 2.
The bridge is owned by New York City and operated by MTA Bridges & Tunnels, an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interstate 278 passes over the bridge, connecting the Staten Island Expressway with the Gowanus Exppressway and the Belt Parway. The Verrazano, along with the other three major Staten Island bridges, created a new way for commuters and travelers to reach Brooklyn, Long Island, and Manhattan by car from New Jersey.
The bridge was the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses, the New York State Parks Commissioner and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, who had long desired the bridge as a means of completing the expressway system which was itself largely the result of his efforts. The bridge was also the last project designed by Chief Engineer Othmar Ammann, who had also designed most of the other major crossings of New York City, including the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the Robert F.Kennedy Bridge, and the Throgs Neck Bridge. The plans to build the bridge caused considerable controversy in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, because many families had settled in homes in the area where the bridge now stands and were forced to relocate.
Construction on the bridge began August 13, 1959, and the upper deck was opened on November 21, 1964 at a cost of $320 million.New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony, which was attended by over 5,000 people. The lower deck opened on June 28, 1969.The bridge took over the title of the longest suspension bridge in the world (previously held by the Golden Gate Bridge) from 1964 until 1981, when it was eclipsed by the Humber Bridge in England.
Fort Lafayette was an island coastal fortification in New York Harbor, built next to Fort Hamilton at the southern tip of what is now Bay Ridge. It was destroyed as part of the bridge's construction in 1960; the Brooklyn-side bridge pillar now occupy the fort's former foundation.
According to the United States Department of Transportation:
- Each of the two towers contains 1,000,000 bolts and 3,000,000 rivets.
- The diameter of each of the four suspension cables is 36 inches (914 mm). Each cable is composed of 26,108 wires amounting to a total of 143,000 miles (230,136 km) in length
- Because of the height of the towers (693 ft/211 m) and their distance apart (4,260 ft/1,298 m), the curvature of the Earth’s surface had to be taken into account when designing the bridge—the towers are 15⁄8 inches (41.275 mm) farther apart at their tops than at their bases.
- Because of thermal expansion/contraction of the steel cables, the bridge roadway is 12 feet (3.66 m) lower in summer than its winter elevation.
The RMS Queen Mary 2 was designed with a flatter funnel to pass under the bridge, and has 13 feet (3.96 m) of clearance under the bridge during high tide.
The bridge has fostered more traffic on the Outerbridge Crossing and the Goethals Bridge, both of which connect Staten Island with New Jersey.
In 2009, all 262 of the mercury vapor fixtures in the bridge's necklace lighting were replaced with energy efficient light-emitting diodes.
The naming of the bridge for Verrazzano was controversial. It was first proposed in 1951 by the Italian Historical Society of America, when the bridge was in the planning stage. After Moses turned down the initial proposal, the society undertook a public relations campaign to re-establish the reputation of the largely forgotten Verrazano and to promote the idea of naming the bridge for him. The campaign was largely the effort of Society director John N. LaCorte, who in 1954 successfully lobbied New York Governor W Averell Harriman to proclaim April 17 (the anniversary of Verrazano's arrival in the harbor) as Verrazano Day. Subsequent efforts by LaCorte resulted in similar proclamations by governors of states along the East Coast. After these successes, LaCorte reapproached the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, but was turned down a second time. The manager of the authority, backed by Moses, said the name was too long and that he had never heard of Verrazano.
The society later succeeded in lobbying to get a bill introduced in the New York State Aseembly that would name the bridge for the explorer. After the introduction of the bill, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce joined the society in promoting the name. The bill was signed into law in 1960 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Although the controversy seemed settled, the naming issue rose again in the last year of construction after the assassination of Jhon F. Kennedy. A petition to name the bridge for Kennedy received thousands of signatures. In response, LaCorte contacted United States Attoreny General Robert Kennedy, the president's brother, who told LaCorte that he would make sure the bridge would not be named for his brother. (What had been known as Idlwild Airport, New York's major international airport, was named for him instead.)
Even so, the official name was widely ignored by local news outlets at the time of the dedication. Some radio announcers and newspapers omitted any reference to Verrazano, referring to the bridge as the Narrows Bridge, or the Brooklyn-Staten Island Bridge. The society continued its lobbying efforts to promote the name in the following years until the name became firmly established.
In 2008, about 190,000 vehicles used the bridge per day on average.
As of December 30, 2010, the one-way toll (paid westbound into Staten Island only) in cash is $13 per car or $5.50 per motorcycle. E-ZPass users with New York State transponders pay $9.60 per car or $4.18 per motorcycle; out-of-state account holders get no discount.
From 1964 to 1986, the toll was collected in both directions until Staten Island residents concerned about pollution from idling vehicles called for one way tolls. However, as of 2011 the eastbound toll booths are still in place, requiring drivers to slow down. While the high cost of the toll between Brooklyn and Staten Island has always been an issue for residents, some favor the toll because they see it as a way to curb population growth on Staten Island. Each of the four bridges to the Island is tolled.
Beginning in 2009, eight of the unused Brooklyn-bound toll booths will be removed in a project to improve traffic flow at the toll plaza; three of the unused toll booths will be subsequently removed in 2009 during the second phase of the construction project.
Recently, residents living on both ends of the bridge have lobbied for pedestrian access. In October 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to look into establishing the long-awaited pedestrian and bicycle access.