Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Willis Avenue Bridge

Willis Avenue Bridge, January 20, 2010
Rob Hickman on a 26", Michael Richter on a 20", Daryll John on a 20", Keith Nelson on a 26"

On our first ride of of 2010 we added five bridges to bring our total to 22 New York City bridges crossed by unicycle. We focused on the lower Harlem River bridges, starting in Manhattan and weaving our way back and forth between Manhattan and the Bronx. We covered about 6 miles, including a lap around Yankee stadium and some fancy pedaling in a unicycle park.

From New York City Department of Transportation:
The main span of the Willis Avenue Bridge carries four 3.1 meter lanes of one-way traffic over the Harlem River. The bridge extends from First Avenue and East 124th Street in Manhattan to Willis Avenue and East 134th Street in the Bronx. Oriented north-south, this bridge is a northbound route and acts as a couplet with the Third Avenue Bridge, which carries southbound traffic. The Willis Avenue Bridge is located about 550 meters southeast of Third Avenue Bridge. It is a swing span bridge with a single flanking through truss main span. The bridge crosses the Harlem River Drive, a concrete plant, the Harlem River, the Metro-North Railroad Oak Point Link, the Harlem River Rail Yard, and Bruckner Boulevard. The bridge is easily reached from the local Manhattan street network, via First Avenue and East 125th Street, as well as from the FDR Drive. The curb-to-curb width of the swing span is about 12.8m, and is flanked by two 2.74m sidewalks. The northern sidewalk runs from the First Avenue approach to East 135th Street in the Bronx, where the bridge meets existing grade. The two Willis Avenue approach lanes measure 3.7m and the three Bruckner Boulevard approach lanes are 3.6m wide.

By the turn of the 20th century, intensified manufacturing development in the southern Bronx had rendered the Third Avenue Bridge inadequate for traffic demand. In 1894 the State Legislature authorized a new bridge to be built in the same location where a ferry ran in the 17th century. After a delay due to a right-of-way conflict with the New Haven Railroad, the bridge opened on August 22, 1901, at a cost of $2,444,511. Significant work to strengthen the structure was performed in 1916, when the Union Railway Company routed a trolley line across the bridge.

The Willis Avenue Bridge exhibits the effects of age, weather and the continual, daily usage by motor vehicles. The Department of Transportation is replacing the bridge, including the FDR Drive approach ramp and the ramp onto Bruckner Boulevard. NYCDOT will also reconstruct Willis Avenue over the Major Deegan Expressway for the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT).

NYCDOT has planned the new bridge to be constructed adjacent to and just south of the existing bridge. Thus, traffic, including the BX-15 bus, can continue to use the current bridge until the new bridge opens, resulting in limited impact to motorists and nearby communities. Throughout the project, little impact to marine traffic will be experienced. The new swing span is being fabricated and assembled off site, and will be floated into place once the foundations, center pier and rest piers are ready to receive it. Project completion is scheduled for the end of 2012.

The new Willis Avenue Bridge will be built to current engineering design standards and feature a direct connection from the FDR to the northbound Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. It will have wider lanes and will feature shoulders and a combined pedestrian/bicycle pathway along its north side. A symbolic portion of the original Willis Avenue Bridge will be retained as a monument in Harlem River Park.

Stage 1 of the project is currently underway. The team, consisting of DOT's Division of Bridges, Hardesty & Hanover LLP, Kiewit Constructors Inc-Weeks Marine Inc-Joint Venture and the Willis Avenue Bridge Company, are preparing the site, marshalling supplies and equipment and making roadway repairs. The next, longest phase of the work will build portions of the new off-ramp in the Bronx and lay foundations for the new bridge on land and in the water. The new swing span will be floated in in mid-2011, and traffic should be using it by that fall.

On Thursday, December 11, 2008, the current Manhattan pedestrian sidewalk entry ramp walkway onto the Bridge at the corner of First Avenue and East 123rd Street was closed. A new temporary pedestrian staircase was opened along the new Temporary Loop Ramp walkway to bring Bronx-bound pedestrians onto the Willis Avenue Bridge. This stairway can be accessed at First Avenue and East 127th Street. As the sidewalk at East 127th Street remains closed, pedestrians must proceed north along First Avenue from either East 125th Street or East 126th Street to the new stair. Disabled persons who are unable to climb or descend stairs are encouraged to use the Third Avenue Bridge sidewalks. The new Willis Avenue Bridge will be fully accessible to the disabled.

Beginning on January 20, 2009, the Department of Transportation will begin to shift Bronx-bound traffic lanes onto the north side of the Willis Avenue Bridge. Once the new lane configuration is in place, three traffic lanes will continue in service as the left lane has been constructed in place of the north sidewalk in the vicinity of the bridge over the Major Deegan Expressway.

Upon exiting the bridge, motorists in the left lane may only proceed north onto the Major Deegan Expressway. A temporary concrete barrier will channel vehicles in the left lane onto the Major Deegan Expressway. The right and center lanes will continue to carry traffic onto Willis Avenue eastbound. These changes are necessary to facilitate construction activities in the Bronx onto and over the Major Deegan Expressway. This traffic pattern will continue for approximately one year.

The project is a major component of DOT's long range Harlem River Bridges program, which has so far reconstructed or replaced the Macombs Dam, Third Avenue, Madison Avenue, 145th Street and University Heights Bridges.

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