Suspension Rope on George Washington Bridge Replaced for First Time in History

The George Washington Bridge – one of the most recognizable bridges and the world’s busiest crossing connecting 106 million vehicles annually, recently celebrated it’s 80th anniversary.  This past week the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s board authorized $15.5 million for repairs, part of the more than $1 billion that the project will eventually cost.  Agency officials overall plan is to clean the bridge’s four main cables and also replace, for the first time in history, all of the 592 vertical suspender ropes that hold up the roadway.

Spanning the river to link New York City and New Jersey, the George Washington Bridge was designed by Othmar Ammann in 1923.  The Port Authority, with Ammann as chief engineer, began construction in October of 1927 using wire produced by the Roebling Company of New Jersey.  The Bridge opened to traffic in 1931.

Port Authority officials said the repairs are long overdue.  Normally bridges have their wires replaced every 70 years or so.  According to the Port Authority, no more than three of the suspender ropes with each 283 wires stretching from the bridge’s main cables to the roadway can be replaced at the same time – removing more than that could destabilize the span.  Each of the bridge’s suspender ropes weigh 1,500 to 10,000 pounds each, depending on their length.

Agency Officials estimate the project will create 3,600 jobs.

The suspension wire will be replaced in stages and is expected to be completed in eight years.  The next phase of repair planned for 2013 will be to clean up the massive anchorages tying down the bridge’s foundation as well as replace broken wires and replace the dehumidifiers in the anchor chambers.

The bridge’s main cables are still in pretty good shape and will be cleaned up by scraping off their zinc-paste wrapping and adding a type of dehumidifier to the main cables.

To pay for these repairs, Port Authority Officials said they would use revenue from tolls and fares.

For more information, visit the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Photo from the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) collections.

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