Home MTA Bridges and Tunnels A $1-billion 75th birthday present for the RFK

A $1-billion 75th birthday present for the RFK

by Benjamin Kabak

The Triborough Bridge under construction in 1932. (Photo courtesy of MTA Bridges & Tunnels Special Archive)

It’s a big year for the Triborough Bridge. Now known officially as the RFK Bridge, the three-span structure is celebrating its 75th anniversary this month with a photo exhibit at the Greater Astoria Historical Society and, more importantly, a $1-billion, 15-year overhaul. The bridge, which saw 11 million cars pass through it during its first year of operation, now hosts 60 million vehicles a year, and the overhaul is badly needed.

The MTA, in a press released, detailed the plans. Many of the bridge structures that support the toll plazas will be completely reconstructed while its seven ramps will be replaced or rehabilitated as well. “Motorists will see work going on at the RFK Bridge well into the next decade,” Bridges and Tunnels President Jim Ferrara said. “Each project is vitally important to insure that the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge continues to be a vibrant link in the region’s transportation network.”

The bulk of the funds will go toward toll plaza work. Design on the Bronx toll plaza reconstruction will start this year with construction to commence in 2014. The Manhattan toll plazas will be overhauled during the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan, and that actual roadwork won’t start until 2019. In the eight-year interim, the MTA is going to replace a bunch of old asphalt on the road to prevent water from seeping into the concrete decking.

“It is a massive challenge maintaining and caring for 2.6 million square feet of roadway decking and infrastructure while maintaining traffic for the nearly 60 million cars and trucks that go through the Bronx and Manhattan plazas each year,” said MTA Bridges and Tunnels Chief Engineer Joe Keane. “Each project is designed to minimize customer impact by working off-peak when possible and safely maintaining as many lanes of traffic as we can.”

Meanwhile, to celebrate the bridge’s birthday, the MTA along with the Greater Astoria Historical Society will open an exhibit entitled “A Planner’s Dream, an Engineer’s Triumph, a Legacy to our City” at the Quinn Gallery in Long Island City. These images are going to delve into the Bridges and Tunnels photo archive. “This is a perfect way to bring the three communities that the RFK Bridge serves together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of our oldest bridge, which played such a vital role in the development of modern New York City history,” Ferrara said.

The Triborough — three bridges, one viaduct and 14 miles of approach roads — cost $60.3 million to construct. That’s just a hair under $1 billion in 2011 money so the overhaul is going to cost nearly the same as it did to build the thing in the first place. Crazy, huh?

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Namer July 7, 2011 - 1:24 pm

“A $1-billion 75th birthday present for the RFK Triboro”

Fixed that for you.

Maggie July 7, 2011 - 3:44 pm

Thanks. Don’t care what the politicians say, it’s still the Triborough/Triboro.

pete July 8, 2011 - 2:40 am

I like my public infrastructure not to worship old white men.

Andrew D. Smith July 7, 2011 - 1:33 pm

The cost escalation is beyond “crazy” — a thing that should cause the reader to shrug his shoulders and laugh.

It is THE problem, the one that makes it impossible for us to create the world desired by basically everyone who reads a subway blog. If it is not solved, if we do not find some way for the government to build, operate and maintain infrastructure affordably, our cities are basically doomed.

No other problem discussed here matters AT ALL until this one is solved and I cannot understand how it has never translated into any political issue whatsoever.

Scott E July 7, 2011 - 1:34 pm

“The bulk of the funds will go toward toll plaza work.”
Does this mean gateless, high-speed toll plazas, or are they going to design around old technology?

Oh, and I’ll spare you my thoughts for the new name of the bridge, but I’m still confused as to whether the old name was “Triborough” or “Triboro”.

Christopher July 7, 2011 - 2:28 pm

“Triboro” was a Mosesian word. He didn’t like Triborough spelled out. Triboro fit on the signs better and cost less to make (shorter word) but they were interchangeable. Like many things in NYC, it has multiple names.

Al D July 7, 2011 - 2:57 pm

Let’s hope that they don’t disappoint and design around old technology!

Eric F. July 7, 2011 - 1:44 pm

That’s about $66 million a year for 15 years. Meanwhile I don’t have a good bead on what kind of toll revenue this thing brings in hut 60 million cars would bring in over $300 million a year, with trucks taking up any serious percentage of the vehivle total you could be looking at $500 million in tolls. If the subways ran like that…

Matt M July 7, 2011 - 1:51 pm

Looks like no plans for a rideable bike lane with real ramps. Was this considered and rejected? Seems out of step with the city’s general bike improvements.

Eric F. July 7, 2011 - 2:39 pm

Years ago I biked over the bridge, it involved some fence jumping in upper Manhattan. In my humble opinion, the pedestrian path/bike path on the bridge affords some of the best possible views of the Manhattan skyline. I put the view even above the Brooklyn Bridge because the Triboro is at a higher elevation. Caution though that bridge was made for cars, not horses, so it’s much more severely graded than the Brooklyn bridge.

TP July 7, 2011 - 2:52 pm

I’m no expert but I feel like the Triborough is one of the few bridges in the region where the bridge itself is never backed up. The roadways leading into it have capacity constraints but when you’re on your way to the bridge itself it’s smooth sailing.

R. Graham July 7, 2011 - 10:33 pm

The bulk of the work going towards the toll plaza is very concerning. Hopefully this involves major road work because there is no way we should be talking about a toll plaza when work is all said and done. It’s matter of fact that the MTA is going gateless at the Henry Hudson in January and then the following year the booths are supposed to disappear.

By that time the booths should be coming down at all MTA bridges and tunnels.

Peter July 8, 2011 - 3:38 am

I had hoped that the RFK name wouldn’t really catch on, but alas it seems like it has. Traffic reports use RFK exclusively, though in terms of actual signage the split seems to me to be about 50/50. There are still “Triboro” signs in a lot of prominent locations, including (last time I was there), the approach from the Bruckner.

The Triboro name was a direct link to the Moses era which, despite your opinion of Moses, is inarguably a transformative period of NYC history. To sever that historical connection in order to honor a politician with no ties to the bridge, and who is amply honored in other ways, was a travesty, in my opinion.

Eric F. July 8, 2011 - 9:22 am

The Triboro name is descriptive. The bridge links three boroughs. That’s also a pretty neat trick for a bridge to pull. Naming the bridge RFK provides no such descriptive identity. Further, the RFK name is virtually generic as so many things are named after him. The name change was about a bunch of 60’s vintage Democrats attaching their idol’s name to a piece of infrastructure that his generation could never build. I predict they will rename the Hoover Dam after Sheila Jackson next.

Frank B. July 8, 2011 - 3:46 pm

Good for the TRIBOROUGH bridge. I’d suggest making it accessible for transit in the reconstruction, but I suppose the Hell Gate could eventually do that, couldn’t it?

One note: I’ll be buried in the cold, cold ground before I call it the “Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge”. (And that goes for the INTERBOROUGH Parkway and 59TH STREET BRIDGE as well!).

I also find it hilarious that the dopes only renamed the bridge itself, and we still have a Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and a Triboro Plaza.

Please don’t be an enabler for these hair-brained, self-worshiping politicians. Say the real names!

eastbound commuter August 1, 2011 - 11:51 pm

Eternally Triborough and Queensborough. I won’t let politicians tell me how to name my borough.

Dave 'Paco' Abraham July 8, 2011 - 4:02 pm

any chance the work will somehow also make more accessible bike/ped bridges. the stairs on them now are not at all helpful in making it a real commuter bridge.


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