The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, colloquially referred to as the Whitestone Bridge or simply the Whitestone, is a suspension bridge that crosses the East River and connects the boroughs of Queens and The Bronx via Interstate 678. The bridge was designed by Othmar Ammann and opened to traffic with four lanes on April 29, 1939.
In 1929, however, the Regional Plan Association had proposed another bridge from the Bronx to northern Queens to allow motorists from upstate New York and New England to reach Queens and Long Island without traveling through the traffic-ridden communities of western Queens. On February 25, 1930, Robert Moses proposed a Ferry Point Park-Whitestone Bridge as a part of his Belt Parkway system around Brooklyn and Queens.
As the 1930s progressed, Moses found his bridge more and more necessary: to link to the 1939 New York World's Fair and to LaGuardia Airport (then known as North Beach Airport). In addition, the Whitestone Bridge was to provide congestion relief to the Triborough Bridge.
The New York Legislature approved Moses' plan in April 1937. Moses had raised controversy when he quickly decided to demolish seventeen homes in the Queens community of Malba. Moses argued such measures were necessary to complete the bridge on schedule.
The RPA had also said that the Whitestone Bridge should have rail connections, or at least be able to accommodate them in the future, but had no allies on the project, to Moses' relief.
Designer Othmar Ammann had several plans for the bridge that would keep construction on its tight schedule. The two towers were constructed in a short 18 days and were the first to have no diagonal cross bracing. Unlike other suspension bridges, the Whitestone Bridge did not have a stiffening truss system. Instead, I-beam girders gave the bridge an art deco streamlined appearance.
The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened on April 29, 1939, in festivities led by then-Mayor of New York City Fiorello H. La Guardia. The bridge featured pedestrian walkways as well as four lanes of vehicular traffic, which carried 17,000 vehicles during the year 1940. The toll was 25 cents. The center span was the fourth longest in the world at the opening.
Ammann's plan to use I-beam girders proved to be a poor one after the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington (known as Galloping Gertie for the effect wind had on the structure). The Narrows Bridge employed an deep girder system, much like the Whitestone Bridge. Eight stay cables (two per tower per side) were installed for added stability in 1940. Starting in 1943, the pedestrian walkways were removed and the four lanes of roadway traffic was widened to six in a project to install high trusses on either side of the deck to weigh down the bridge in an effort to reduce oscillation. These trusses detracted from the former streamlined looking span. In a project started in 2005, the Metropolitan Transit Authority restored the classic lines of the bridge by uninstalling the high trusses on either side that had been used to stiffen the bridge. A different approach was used that simply nipped the aerodynamic problem in the bud by installing "lightweight fiberglass aerodynamic fairing, triangular in shape along both sides of the bridge that slices the wind as it passes over the bridge. The removal of the trusses and other changes to the decking cut the bridge's weight by 6,000 tons, some 25% of the mass suspended by the cables.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority planned to spend $286 million in bridge renovations, which started in August 2001. These renovations, which are still in progress, include removing the cable stays installed in the 1940s, removing the trusses (which proved to be too heavy for the bridge's suspension cables, which were not designed to hold such weight), adding hydraulic dampers to stabilize the bridge deck, and installing variable message signs. Replacing the deck of the bridge and assisting in lightening the deck by 6,000 tons are projected to be done by 2008. The bridge remains in service during overhaul, but a reduced number of lanes lead to traffic backups and signs suggesting use of the Throgs Neck Bridge. Trucks over 40 tons have been prohibited from using the span since 2005.
Originally built to connect the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx to the Whitestone Parkway in Queens, it was redesignated Interstate 678 in the late 1950s. The approaches to the bridge were soon after converted to Interstate Highway standards. The Whitestone Parkway became the Whitestone Expressway, and part of the Hutchinson was converted to an expressway. They now share the I-678 designation with the bridge itself.
The sidewalks that had been included when originally constructed were removed from the bridge to allow for two more vehicular lanes. The project's real goal was to reinforce the bridge with trusses after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster. Both the Whitestone and Thousand Islands Bridges used the same general design as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The vehicular traffic expansion was used as a guise to add these trusses.
After the removal of the sidewalks, bicyclists were able to use QBx1 buses of the Queens Surface Corporation, which could carry bicycles on the front-mounted bike racks. However, since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority absorbed the bus routes formerly operated by Queens Surface, the bike racks have been eliminated. Bicyclists are now forced to detour to the Triborough Bridge or possibly try hitchhiking across, which is illegal and considered very dangerous in New York City. Whether a bike way or walkway will be constructed on the bridge in the future is still uncertain.
From March 13, 2005, the crossing charge for a two-axle passenger vehicle is $4.50 charged in each direction, with a $.50 discount for E-ZPass users. The crossing charge for a motorcycle is $2.00 charged in each direction, with a $0.25 discount for E-ZPass users.
On the Bronx side, the bridge leads directly into the Bruckner Interchange, which serves as the northern terminus of I-678, which is where the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95), Bruckner Expressway (I-278 & I-95), Hutchinson River Parkway, and the Cross Bronx Expressway extension (I-295) meet. The segment of I-678 between the bridge and the Bruckner Interchange is a depressed freeway.
Although the neighborhood of Whitestone is located in Queens, several businesses on the Bronx side of the bridge include "Whitestone" in their names, owing to the bridge's often-shortened name.