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Goethals Bridge

Elizabeth - Howland Hook Bridge

Goethals Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: October 21, 2013

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
I-278 (Staten Island Expressway) Over Arthur Kill
Elizabeth and New York: Union County, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York: United States
Structure Type
Metal Cantilever Rivet-Connected Warren Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal Deck Girder, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1928 By Builder/Contractor: Unknown and Engineer/Design: J. A. L. Waddell
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
672.0 Feet (204.8 Meters)
Structure Length
8,073.0 Feet (2460.7 Meters)
Roadway Width
42 Feet (12.8 Meters)
3 Main Span(s) and 70 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge no longer exists!

Bridge Status: This bridge was replaced and demolished in 2018.

The loss of this bridge in 2018 was the conclusion of a project to replace this bridge with a pair of cable-stayed bridges. At the time of demolition this bridge retained a high degree of historic integrity and its demolition represents the loss of a noteworthy example of its kind.

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Documentation For This Bridge

View Historical Article About This Bridge

View The Memorandum of Agreement For This Bridge

Download a ZIP Archive of Selected Portions of the Final Environmental Impact Statement

This bridge is a beautiful example of a cantilever truss bridge. With simple deck plate girder approach spans that provide a long approach up to the needed height for boats, its main truss spans stand out boldly beside the simple girder spans. The bridge sits on attractive arched concrete piers. A true cantilever truss bridge, its main spans include a suspended span held by cantilever arms and balanced by anchor arm spans at either end. The bridge was designed by J. A. L. Waddell, a famous bridge engineer who is noted for his texts on engineering and for pioneering the modern vertical lift bridge. Despite serving heavy traffic, the bridge superstructure and substructure appears to retain excellent historic integrity with no major alterations.

This bridge is slated for demolition and replacement. While the need for additional capacity and wider lanes is obvious (even on a Sunday morning, the bridge was quite busy and the 10 foot lanes are extremely narrow for an Interstate highway) however the need to demolish this bridge is definitely not apparent. Originally, there was an idea to build a companion bridge and form a one-way couplet of bridges. This outstanding solution with each bridge serving one direction of traffic would have provided more and wider lanes for each direction of traffic, while also preserving this historic bridge. Instead however, this idea was scrapped for the short-sighted and wasteful option of demolition and replacement.

Police harassment occurred while attempting to photograph this historic bridge. The officer claimed that it was illegal to photograph the bridge. Such a claim is absurd in the United States of America where we enjoy First Amendment rights which include the right to photograph anything that is visible from public property. Similar incidents have happened to other photographers in New York City, however there is little evidence that any of this has actually resulted in successful prosecution because the legality ends up being questionable. It is sad that New York City is not as welcoming of photographers as other cities like Chicago where such incidents are unheard of. Additionally, this incident occurred around the same time that the Port Authority was working with New Jersey Governor Chris Christy to shut down lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish the city of Fort Lee. Both incidents point to a common thread. The Port Authority is an unchecked power than thinks it is above the law and can do whatever it wants regardless of legality. Anyway, HistoricBridges.org still managed to get a bunch of photos of the bridge which are proudly offered here on the website.

Information and Findings From Final Environmental Impact Statement

Discussion of Bridge

Goethals Bridge, Elizabeth, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York (Photos 3-5, Figure 15) The Goethals Bridge carries Interstate Route 278, a multi-lane highway, over the Arthur Kill from Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey to Staten Island, Richmond County, New York (see Figure 14 Resource #1). The bridge, a major crossing connecting New Jersey with New York, is more than one mile in length and 62 feet wide (AKRF 1994; Richman 2005: 100). This cantilever truss bridge has a through truss suspended main span, 672 feet in length and steel girder approach spans, 240 feet long. The bridge originally featured 75 arched concrete piers, 4 in the channel, 35 on the New Jersey side, and 36 on the Staten Island side (AKRF 1994). The approach spans consist of viaducts with steel girders supported by these concrete piers. At the west approach in Elizabeth, the approach spans form a viaduct that carries traffic over the New Jersey Turnpike and Conrail over the Sound Shore Branch, formerly a division of the Central Railroad of New Jersey (A.G. Lichtenstein & Associates [Lichtenstein] 2001). At the Arthur Kill, the piers are sunk 50 feet below the bottom of the channel bed. Plans instructed that the Elizabeth approach was to be constructed on bedrock, 25 to 40 feet below the surface. At Staten Island, the rock lay too far below the surface and the covering low-lying ground too soft to carry the spans. The preliminary report recommended that the Staten Island approach spans be constructed on concrete piers carried on piles (Port of New York Authority 1925:38).  

The bridge has a clearance of 135 feet above mean high water above the channel to accommodate ship traffic through the kill. Early discussions proposed a low bridge, however, this would have obstructed traffic to nearby ports and the height of the bridge was increased. In 1923, the bridge was initially planned to carry only vehicular traffic. The designs were modified to include a walkway for pedestrian and bicycle traffic in addition to four vehicular lanes (AKRF 1994). The bridge is maintained as a toll structure.  

The bridge retains a high degree of integrity and has undergone a few minor changes since its construction. Concrete medians were installed in 1972 and parapets have been added to increase bridge safety. To prevent damage from water traffic, two protective fender cells were installed in the Arthur Kill on the north and south sides of the main Staten Island pier. In 1964, a new toll plaza and administration building were constructed in Staten Island. The administration building has a two-story modern building with a prominent clock, visible from the turnpike. North of Goethals Road and adjacent to the bridge is a two-story maintenance building, connected to the toll plaza by an elevated walkway above the road (AKRF 1994). In 1964, a $3.9 million project was announced to improve the New Jersey approaches to the bridge, which included construction of a 1,200-foot long approach south of and parallel to the original viaduct. The project also included roadway changes and ramps added at the connection to the New Jersey Turnpike, which required removal of several of the original arched concrete piers at the approach viaduct at the Elizabeth, New Jersey side. Other modifications include widening the approach, circa 1969, through the addition of larger deck girders to the outside of the original beams (Lichtenstein 2001). The pedestrian walkways have been closed, due to condition issues, for a decade (U.S. Coast Guard 2004). 

By the start of the twentieth century and after the incorporation of Staten Island as part of New York City, the areas along the Arthur Kill was the site of expansion of factories and other industrial enterprises. This economic boom created strain on the ferry system handling the freight, commuters and automobiles traveling between Staten Island and New Jersey. To alleviate the traffic congestion and allow for further economic development in the area, particularly on Staten Island, various recommendations were put forth to connect Staten Island with New Jersey. These plans included a tunnel or a low-level railway/highway bridge connecting to Elizabeth, New Jersey. With the formation of the Port of New York Authority, a joint state agency, plans for an interstate bridge could be developed. Concerns that a low-cost low-level bridge would obstruct and thereby threaten the shipping activities in the channel, plans for two high-level bridges, the current Goethals and the Outer Bridge Crossing, were developed. These bridges, the first facilities constructed by the Port Authority, are representative of an era of rapid expansion of the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area's highway and bridge network (AKRF 1994). The Goethals Bridge was constructed between 1924 and 1928 between Elizabeth, New Jersey and Howland Hook Staten Island. The bridge cost 7.2 million dollars to construct. Although sources provide slightly different dimensions, the Goethals Bridge is a narrow four-lane, two-way toll bridge with a total elevated length of 7,109 feet and a truss span of 1,152 feet. The 672-foot-long main span is formed by a cantilever steel through truss. To ensure the viability of the ports, the Goethals Bridge was designed to have a channel clearance of 135 feet above mean high water. Approximately 6,000 feet of graded viaduct approach spans, supported by 75 concrete piers were required to achieve this height. The total width of the center span, including two 5-foot wide pedestrian sidewalks, is 62 feet. The total length of the bridge and its approaches is approximately 11,825 feet (AKRF 1994).  

The designer of the bridge was John Alexander Low Waddell (J.A.L. Waddell, 1854-1938), was civil engineer and prolific bridge designer. Waddell designed more than 1000 structures in the United States, Canada, and other countries. Waddell graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 1871 and later obtained additional degrees from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In 1920, he moved to New York City were he participated in numerous bridge projects (Wikipedia 2007). He was the founder of what became the New York-based firm of Hardesty and Hanover, author of several bridge engineering texts, and holder of bridge patents. Waddell's design was selected by the Port Authority, in part due to his stature as highly regarded engineer of the time (Richmond 2005:102). Construction of the bridge was supervised by Othmar Ammann, a noteworthy engineer in his own right who had also submitted plans for the bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island. Ammenn, as an engineer for the Port Authority, later designed the Bayonne, George Washington, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges. York and Sawyer, designers of the Bowery Savings Bank on East 42nd Street and the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan, were chosen as the consulting architects for both bridges (AKRF 1994).  

Initially, the bridge was referred to as the Arthur Kill Bridge. It was, however, renamed in honor of the Port Authority's first chief engineer, Major General George Washington Goethals (1858-1928) prior to its dedication. Goethals, best known as the builder of the Panama Canal, died shortly before the dedication of the bridge in January 1928. Goethals was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1880, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt reportedly handpicked Goethals for the Panama project, appointing him chief engineer. Goethals, a skilled administrator and engineer was able to succeed where many others had previously failed, completing the canal in 1914, three years ahead of schedule. Goethals was also New Jersey's first state highway engineer, appointed in 1917 (Britannica 2007; Encarta 2007; Richmond 2005:101).  
Although not renowned for its architectural elegance, described as having internal confusion? typical of an overhead truss with an uneven upper edge, the bridge is notable and therefore significant from an engineering perspective, given the date of construction. Three diverse footing and pier systems were employed due to the variation in soil and subsurface conditions. The bridge has wood-pile foundations and unsheeted excavation for most of the piers, steel and wood sheeted open cofferdams for the piers in the channel where rock was near the surface, and pneumatic caissons for sandstone and soft clay conditions with inadequate rock cores for pier foundations.  

The Goethals Bridge has opinions of eligibility from both the NJHPO and NYSOPRHP and is recommended eligible by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Goethals Bridge is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C. The Goethals Bridge, built in 1918-1927 and designed by J.A.L. Waddell with Othmar Ammann, was intended by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to alleviate the congested ferry system to Staten Island as well as provide the first link for vehicular traffic between Staten Island and the New Jersey mainland (Criterion A). The bridge consists of a high 672-foot-long main span formed by a cantilever steel through truss and long elevated steel girder approaches supported by concrete piers, with a total length of one mile (Criterion C). Despite minor changes, such as the addition of concrete medians and parapets, changes in the New Jersey approach, and the replacement of the toll plaza, administration, and maintenance buildings, the bridge retains a high degree of integrity.


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CarCam: Southeastbound Crossing

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Sunny morning. Camera aimed up slightly. Note: The downloadable high quality version of this video (available on the video page) is well worth the download since it offers excellent 1080 HD detail and is vastly more impressive than the compressed streaming video. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.


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CarCam: Southeastbound Crossing

Full Motion Video
Cloudy morning. Note: The downloadable high quality version of this video (available on the video page) is well worth the download since it offers excellent 1080 HD detail and is vastly more impressive than the compressed streaming video. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.


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This bridge was demolished in 2018.

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