Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bridge of the Week #74: Goethals Bridge

This week's bridge is the Goethals Bridge, which spans Arthur Kill between Staten Island and Elizabeth, New Jersey. It is a steel-truss cantilever bridge with a central span of 672 feet and a total length of 7,109 feet, with a clearance of 140 feet above the water. It carries four lanes of traffic, two in each direction, and it has sidewalks on both the north and south sides that have been closed for many years.

Of all the bridges in the city, this has one of the more interesting histories and an interesting future. As far back as the 1860's a bridge or series of bridges have been proposed between Staten Island and New Jersey. But in 1924, with the increase of motor vehicles and the economic advantages to linking Staten Island with New Jersey, the states of New York and New Jersey passed legislation allowing construction of two bridges to take place, one near the north end of the island to Elizabeth, NJ, and one near the south end to Perth Amboy, to be carried out by the new Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority was already constructing the Holland Tunnel as the first auto connection between the two states, and these two bridges would be the Authority's first bridges. Both the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing were designed by John Alexander Low Waddell and opened on June 29, 1928. The Goethals Bridge (usually pronounced "Goth-" as in "gothic", sometimes I've heard "Go-", rhyming with "toe", which I believe may be more accurate, I've never heard it pronounced as if it were German with an umlaut and a hard "t", so don't try to be clever and pronounce it that way) was named after Major General George Washington Goethals, who supervised construction of the Panama Canal and was the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority. Sadly, he died in January of 1928, and didn't live to see the bridge opened.

Both bridges were built with pedestrian access. The walkways on the Outerbridge were eliminated in 1963 according to one source, to allow widening of the four traffic lanes. The walkways on the Goethals are still there for the most part, but fenced off. The south walkway I believe is partially deconstructed on the New Jersey end, but I've read reports that it's possible, even easy, though illegal, to hop the wall on the north side and cross. I haven't done this, nor do I recommend it. Access to the walkways was available, and the fenced-off entrances can still be viewed, west of the Forest Avenue intersections with Western Ave. (south walkway) and Goethals Road North (north walkway). In Elizabeth, the entrance appears to be west of the New Jersey Turnpike at Trenton Ave. But seriously, I've never crossed on foot, and I'm not saying you should. I've never been in that area of Elizabeth on foot. On Staten Island, there's not much for houses or businesses in the immediate area, but to the east is the neighborhood of Mariner's Harbor. But around there, most people get around by car or bus, and there's not much of interest to runners.

The Goethals charges a toll for drivers, but it was not self-supporting financially until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was opened in 1964, with which the Goethals is connected by means of the Staten Island Expressway. With the added traffic, and the fact that its traffic lanes are only 10 feet wide, making it dangerous for trucks and buses (and just downright scary even in a car), the bridge has been labeled "functionally obsolete," which is fine, since it has less than 10 years left of its lifespan anyway. Ideas were discussed about rehabilitation, possibly adding a twin bridge just to the south, but it was decided to build a completely new, six-lane cable-stay bridge and tear down the existing bridge. One article that I found from a few years ago gave a 2016 completion date, a more recent article said 2017. Another, still more recent, said that the President's latest budget was cutting out infrastructure projects such as this, so I'm not so optimistic. But the artist's renderings of the proposed bridge look beautiful, and it would include pedestrian walkways. On the downside, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro wants to sell naming rights to the new bridge like many sports stadiums and football bowl games. So we could end up with a Qualcom Bridge or a Bridge. Let's hope this insanity is limited to his head only.

Pics: 1. Aerial view of the Goethals Bridge, courtesy of the Port Authority; 2. Ground view looking towards New Jersey from Goethals Road North; 3. The fenced-off north sidewak entrance; 4. The north walkway, as seen by leaning over the wall; 5. Stairway leading to the south walkway.


  1. Up until the 1980's, I had never heard the bridge pronounced, "Goth-als." I imagine this began when traffic reporters from different parts of the country made incorrect assumptions and mispronounced the name. The bridge is pronounced "GO-THALS." George Goethals was a graduate of West Point. He was of German ancestry. In the German language the combination o+e is pronounce with a silent e - thus, GO-Thals bridge. Hey, even Gov. Cuomo correctly pronounces the name.

  2. The Holland Tunnel wasn't built by the Port Authority - they took over operation after the tunnel was built. And it certainly wasn't the "first auto connection" between the two states, as lots of roads cross the northern border of New Jersey into New York State. The first trans-Hudson auto connection, or the first direct auto connection between New Jersey and New York City, yes.