“Titanic” ruled the box office, “Seinfeld” was the top show on television, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began what would become a 20-year journey to improve the Henry Hudson Bridge.
For Walter Hickey, it’s a bit more personal and closer to home. The bridge’s chief engineer joined the MTA as a consultant in 1998 before joining the staff a few years later. But even back then, the bridge — which spans the Harlem River Ship Canal, connecting the Bronx and Manhattan portions of the Henry Hudson Parkway — was being considered for the MTA’s long-term rehabilitation plans.
Now he’s working with bridge facility engineer William Neubauer to make it happen.
“We consider ourselves, almost, the homeowners,” said Hickey, who like Neubauer, is a graduate of nearby Manhattan College. “One of the rewarding things is that your plan and vision become a reality if you are here long enough.”
The MTA is modernizing the Henry Hudson Bridge through an $86 million project expected to last 19 months, started last Friday. It includes the removal of the toll plaza islands where some of the beams and markings on the road still remain on the lower level — to be replaced with more roadway — as well as repairs that could result in periodic lane closures in both directions through 2019, affecting more than 24 million cars that cross it each year.
Additionally, the pedestrian walkway will close in January with the MTA offering a free shuttle bus service for those who walk or ride their bicycle starting in March, which will run through the daylight hours, MTA spokesman Christopher McKniff said.
Construction will stretch out the curve on the bridge to offer better sight distance for drivers. Wooden poles with energy-efficient lighting will replace the current aluminum ones as a way to “try to mimic the Robert Moses era by replacing the very bland aluminum poles with something more decorative,” Hickey said.
Work will also consist of replacing and repairing the bridge’s steel arches. When the Henry Hudson Bridge first opened in 1936, it stood as the longest fixed arch bridge in the world with its longest span at 841 feet. Today, it’s not even in the top 50 on a list where the Chaotianmen Bridge in China is the longest with a span of 1,811 feet.
The result will leave the bridge resembling more of a modern highway, Neubauer said, improving traffic flow.
Preparation began last April, which included installing an additional floor at its offices next to the bridge to store equipment and renovating a storage area below the bridge where steel columns were removed to create more open space.
Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA’s northeast division, said the Henry Hudson Bridge has been in use for more than 80 years and is likely handling more traffic than originally intended and lacks certain features like a breakdown lane and wide road lanes.
AAA has not received complaints from its members about the bridge, Sinclair said.
Although it does not discuss the Henry Hudson Bridge, Sinclair cited a report released earlier this month by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli discussing bridges around the state.
In the report, more than 10 percent of the more than 800 bridges in and around New York City are “structurally deficient.” Even worse, more than 75 percent are “functionally obsolete.”
Although such designations might mean these bridges now have weight limits or don’t meet current design standards, they remain safe to use, according to DiNapoli’s report.
“While lane closures will be part of the repair work, motorists should realize that any delays are a small price to pay for the important work being done to repair the bridge,” Sinclair said. “Drivers should note the work being done and build extra time into their commute to minimize delays.”
CLARIFICATION: When the Henry Hudson Bridge opened in 1936, it was the longest plate girder and fixed-arch bridge in the world. A story that appeared in the Oct. 26 edition did not make that clear.