The George Washington Bridge (known informally as the GW Bridge, the GWB, the GW, or the George) is a suspension bridge spanning the Hudson River, connecting the Washington Heights neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City to Fort Lee in New Jersey by means of Interstate 95, U.S. Route 1/9. U.S. Route 46, which is entirely in New Jersey, ends halfway across the bridge at the state border. The GWB is considered one of the world's busiest bridges in terms of vehicle traffic. The bridge carried 107,912,000 vehicles last year, down slightly from the 2006 volume of 108,529,830 vehicles, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — the bi-state government agency that owns and operates several area bridges, tunnels, and airports.
The GW span is the fourth longest suspension bridge in the United States. It contains two levels — an upper level with four lanes in each direction and a lower level with three lanes in each direction, for a total of 14 lanes of travel. Additionally, the bridge houses a path on each side of the bridge's upper level for pedestrian traffic. The speed limit on the bridge is 45 mph (70 km/h), though heavy traffic frequently makes it difficult to reach such speeds, especially during the morning and evening rush hours into New York City.
When it opened, the bridge had the longest main span in the world; at 1,067 m (3,500 ft), it nearly doubled the previous record of 564 m (1,850 ft), which had been held by the Ambassador Bridge. (The record has since been exceeded numerous times.) The total length of the bridge is 1,451 m (4,760 ft).
As originally built, the bridge offered six lanes of traffic, but in 1946, two additional lanes were provided on what is now the upper level. A second, lower deck, which had been anticipated in Ammann's original plans, was added, opening to the public on August 29, 1962. This lower level has been waggishly nicknamed "Martha." The additional deck increased the capacity of the bridge by 75 percent, making the George Washington Bridge the world's only 14-lane suspension bridge, providing eight lanes on the upper level and six on the lower deck.
The original design for the towers of the bridge called for them to be encased in concrete and granite. However, due to cost considerations during the Great Depression and favorable aesthetic critiques of the bare steel towers, this was never done. The exposed steel towers, with their distinctive criss-crossed bracing, have become one of the bridge's most identifiable characteristics. Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) said of the unadorned steel structure:
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apron; the second tower is very far away; innumerable vertical cables, gleaming against the sky, are suspended from the magisterial curve which swings down and then up. The rose-colored towers of New York appear, a vision whose harshness is mitigated by distance." (When the Cathedrals were White, 1947.)
Following the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, the Port Authority prohibited people from taking photographs on the premises of the bridge due to the fear that terrorist groups might study any potential photographs in order to plot a terrorist attack on the bridge. Such prohibitions have since been lifted. As the enclosed lower level is more vulnerable to hazardous material (HAZMAT) incidents than the upper level, most HAZMATs have been prohibited there even before the September 11th attacks. The George Washington Bridge is home to the world's largest free-flying American flag. The flag, located under the upper arch of the New Jersey tower, drapes vertically for 90 feet (27 m) and is wide .The flag weighs 450 pounds. The flag's stripes are about 5 feet (1.5 m) wide and the stars measure about 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter. Weather permitting, the flag is flown on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day, as well as on dates honoring those lost in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The George Washington Bridge carries I-95, US-1, and US-9 between New Jersey and New York. US-46 terminates at the state border in the middle of the bridge. I-80 and NJ-4 also feed into the bridge but end before reaching it. On the New Jersey side of the Bridge, the Palisades Interstate Parkway connects directly to the bridge's upper level (there were plans to give direct access to the lower level from the parkway but the plan has been postponed), and the New Jersey Turnpike connects to both levels of the bridge.
On the New York side, the twelve-lane Trans-Manhattan Expressway heads east across the narrow neck of upper Manhattan, from the bridge to the Harlem River, providing access from both decks to 178th Street, the Henry Hudson Parkway and Riverside Drive on the West Side of Manhattan, and to Amsterdam Avenue and the Harlem River Drive on the East Side. The Expressway connects directly with the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, which spans the Harlem River as part of the Cross-Bronx Expressway (I-95), providing access to the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87). Heading towards New Jersey, local access to the Bridge is available from 179th Street. There are also ramps connecting the bridge to the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, a commuter bus terminal with direct access to the New York City Subway at the 175th Street station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line.
Current tolls for cars are as follows: $8 if paying with cash, $8 peak hours with E-ZPass, and $6 off-peak hours with E-ZPass. A special discounted carpool toll ($2) is available for cars with three or more passengers, at all times, with E-ZPass, who proceed through a staffed toll lane (provided they have previously opted-in to the free "Carpool Plan"). Current tolls for motorcycles are $7 cash, $7 peak hours with E-ZPass, and $5 off-peak with E-ZPass. Trucks are charged $8 per axle, with significantly discounted off-peak and overnight tolls. The toll is only charged one way (eastbound), which is how all Hudson River crossings are tolled. Foot traffic and cyclists cross for free on sidewalks, one on each side of the upper deck, offering spectacular views of the Hudson River, the Manhattan skyline and the New Jersey Palisades. Pedestrians had to pay tolls of 10 cents shortly after the bridge opened, but non-motorized traffic is no longer tolled. The George Washington Bridge takes in approximately $1 million per day in tolls.
In January 2007 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a deal with Geico, the auto insurance giant, that included the posting of a large billboard on top of the toll plaza that said "Geico Drive Safely," and Geico signs on the tollbooths and approach roads, some of which would feature the insurer's signature gecko. The arrangement would have provided the agency with $3.2 million over two years. A week later, however, the Port Authority canceled the contract with Geico after criticism that the signs would mar the landmarked bridge, that the Port Authority had failed to negotiate a good price for the deal and that the placement of the signs might violate Fort Lee's regulations.
The George Washington Bridge is also popular among sightseers and commuters traveling by foot, bicycle, or roller skates. The South sidewalk (accessible by a long, steep ramp on the Manhattan side of the bridge) is shared by cyclists and pedestrians, with a level surface from end to end. The entrance in Manhattan is at 178th Street, just west of Cabrini Boulevard which also has access to the Hudson River Greenway north of the bridge. The sidewalk is accessible on the New Jersey side from Hudson Terrace, where a gate open in daytime and evening allows pedestrians and bikes to pass. Also on Hudson Terrace, less than one hundred yards north of the bike/ped entrance, walkers will find the start of the Long Path hiking trail, which leads after a short walk to some spectacular views of the bridge, and continues north towards Albany, New York.
The Port Authority closed the North Sidewalk at all times in 2008. Though offering direct access into Palisades Interstate Park, the North sidewalk requires stairway climbs and descents on both sides, always an inconvenience and obstacle to handicapped people, and a risk in poor weather conditions.
Transportation Alternatives, a New York City advocacy group, has proposed an enhanced River Road connector in Fort Lee, which would create safer pedestrian and bicycle access to the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side of the bridge.
Motorists and trucks traveling from New England states towards Pennsylvania, or from the direction of Pennsylvania towards New England, often take the Tappan Zee Bridge crossing instead of the George Washington Bridge as this effectively bypasses New York City and the associated traffic.