The Pulaski Skyway proper is a bridge structure that is approximately 14900 feet long. It was built as part of an larger extension of US-1 and US-9. This extension also includes the Hoboken Avenue Viaduct immediately east of the Pulaski Skyway. Because these two structures are all part of the same drive for most travelers, and because each of these two structures are integral to this US-1 and US-9 extension process (having been built at the same time) and because both were included in the same National Register Historic District, HistoricBridges.org has included documentation for the Hoboken Avenue Viaduct as part of the Pulaski Skyway page. This works out well, since HistoricBridges.org also has available a GoPro video showing the experience of driving the Pulaski Skyway immediately followed by the Hoboken Avenue Viaduct.
Finally, a note on the photo galleries for this bridge. The photo galleries are very large. This is because this is such a long and complex bridge. Because the bridge proper is essentially a bunch of smaller bridges, it seemed less confusing to keep both the detail photos and overview photos in a single photo gallery organized roughly by span number. As you view the main photo gallery, keep in mind that in general, photos proceed from east to west, starting with the Hoboken Avenue Viaduct and ending with the Raymond Boulevard Ramp.
Many different roadways have laid claim to some sort of fame as early examples of high-volume roadways, which were forerunners to what we think of today as expressways, technically called limited access highways, and historically also known as superhighways. Some of the earliest roadways that developed this concept were parkways such as the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. The Pennsylvania Turnpike boasted that it was the first rural expressway. The Pulaski Skyway's claim to fame is that it was the first truly limited access highway and the first major elevated urban highway. It was built with no intersections of any kind, its high level design avoided intersections with countless streets. The skyway only uses onramps and offramps to allow traffic to enter or exit. In addition to the bridge's technological significance which will be discussed in the next section, the bridge is historically significant as the first fully limited access highway.
The enormous bridge was not built by a single contractor, and instead multiple contractors... some of the biggest names in bridge building... worked on the bridge. These included the American Bridge Company, the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, McClintic Marshall of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Taylor-Fichter Steel Construction Company of New York, New York. The overall design process for the bridge and skyway was guided by William G. Sloan, who was chief engineer for the New Jersey State Highway Commission. The main person responsible for the actual structural design of the bridge was Sigvald Johannesson. This is interesting because this bridge is the only major bridge currently known to have been his work. Unlike some of the other big names in bridge design who might have been designers for this bridge, we have an engineer who was otherwise not known nationwide as a major bridge engineer. Frederick Lavis also assisted in the design of the skyway. The two men were previously associated with the railroad industry. Their past association with the railroad industry was helpful since the railroad industry had been designing its railroads to very specific standards of traffic flow design and economic theory. For example, railroad engineers would be concerned with how a steeper grade might affect the cost of operating a train, or how much longer it might take that train to pass through an area based on how sharp a curve was. Following these sorts of standards is a necessity to develop safe and functional limited access highways. However, the highway industry was not accustomed to following such standards so bringing in railroad engineers made sense. At the same time, highways are not the same as railroads, which did lead to some oversight on the part of the bridge's design. At the time the bridge was built, there were not other limited access highways to look to for ideas on how to construct them. For example, the need for acceleration and deceleration lanes had not been realized, and the onramps and off-ramps have no room for cars to merge with traffic. Today, yield signs are present at these onramps. Entering from a dead stop onto a roadway with many fast-moving cars is not easy or enjoyable. As originally built, the bridge also had no dividers in the center of the roadway to separate traffic, which led to numerous deadly head-on collisions.
When completed, the bridge awarded the annual prize for Most Beautiful Steel Bridge by the American Institute of Steel Construction.
The bridge's story of how it came to be is a rather interesting one. It was built in response to heavy traffic congestion associated with the New York Harbor and with the recent completion of the Holland Tunnel. As such, much of the traffic responsible was truck traffic. A new high-speed roadway was clearly needed. An Advisory Board of Engineers was formed, and they recommended a few options. One was a highway that included tunnels under the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers. Another was a highway with vertical lift bridges over the rivers, and finally an alterative with high level fixed bridges was proposed. However, the U.S. War Department objected to additional movable bridges in the area, plus movable bridges would obstruct traffic when raised, defeating the purpose of the high speed roadway. The tunnel option was cast aside due to high costs. This left the high level option, which was chosen. One of the design standards that had been chosen was that the grade should be no steeper than 3.5%. However, challenges with making this a reality everywhere were encountered, and the onramps ended up having a 5.5% grade. The irony of this decision is that in the end it doomed the Pulaski Skyway to being unable to fulfill the needs of those trucks it was partially intended to serve. The trucks could not safely merge onto the bridge from such a steep onramp. In the end, the trucks were forbidden from using the bridge, and a nearby alternate US-6 and US-9 Route was designated for truck traffic.
The Pulaski Skyway cost $20 Million to build, and cost the lives of 15 workers, plus one murder related to labor issues.
This bridge is one of the most incredible historic bridges around because it has so much complexity and variety, combined with unusual design details.
In fact, nearly everything about this bridge is unusual, from the overall design of the bridge to the parts that make it up. The centerpieces of the bridge are the two cantilever through truss spans., which are separated by cantilever deck truss spans. The through truss cantilever sections are shaped unlike any other cantilevers found. The ends of the cantilever anchor arms rise up above the roadway from below, much like an arched cantilever truss. However, unlike an arched cantilever truss, this bridge has towers like a traditional cantilever truss. The parts that make up the bridge are unique as well. While historic truss bridges are never identical, there are common patterns in the design of the built-up beams that compose them. This bridge strays from these common patterns. Bridges built during this time would usually have a ton of v-lacing and/or lattice on them, but this bridge instead makes widespread use of battens. The portal and sway braces also have an unusually heavy design, and some have a very unusual solid girder design, with no open parts. The method in which the suspended span is connected to the rest of the cantilever through truss is unusual: A pin can be seen at the bottom chord, but the top chord does not have a pin connection, meaning that unlike most cantilever truss bridges, the suspended span is not hung from a pin and hanger detail. Instead, there is a bearing on the top chord where the suspended span appears to rest on the cantilever arm.
The cantilever deck truss approach spans that occur before, after, and between the through truss spans have a graceful arched design, and the trusses offer a visual complexity to the bridge and a visual compliment to the through truss spans. Visually, they transition seamlessly into the through truss spans.
One of the very unique features of this bridge is its ramps, specifically the ones leading to Broadway and to Kearny. These ramps, carrying two lanes of traffic (two-way) run from below the bridge up to the deck level, right in the middle of the bridge roadway! Each ramp is used by traffic exiting and entering the ramp. To create these ramps some amazingly creative design was used. Where the ramps meet the bridge deck, it was required that the bridge itself be wider to hold the main traffic lanes and the ramp lanes. As such, additional deck truss lines can be found under the deck in these areas. The Kearny Ramp has a very complex design. Working down from the bridge deck level, the ramp is supported by hangers extending from the floor beams of the main bridge. At the first section of the ramp, the ramp is above the bottom chord and is not visually noticeable to viewers from beside the bridge, hidden within the trusses. When the ramp gets down far enough, the floor beams for each half of the main bridge begin to be a single beam, passing above the ramp roadway. Further down, as the ramp descends, the bridge remains supported by the main bridge, but because the ramp is lower, it is below the bottom chord of the deck trusses, and the hangers are clearly visible to viewers from beside the bridge, giving these spans a unique appearance. Further down, the ramp becomes independently supported by a through plate girder, and is separate of the main bridge. Finally, the ramp touches down on an earthen embankment that carries the ramp down the ground level. The Broadway Ramp is similar, but does not have a plate girder section. At the far west end of the bridge, there is also the Ramond Boulevard Ramp. This ramp carries a single lane of westbound traffic. It is a curved roadway, but the superstructure is not curved, and instead composed of straight spans at different angles. It is a deck plate girder superstructure that breaks away from the primary bridge's deck truss spans. This interplay of deck plate girder merging with truss creates some unusual details at this point.
HistoricBridges.org completed an extensive photo-documentation of this bridge in 2013. At this time, for a bridge of its age carrying so much traffic, the bridge retained remarkable historic integrity. Original railings remained on the bridge. The trusses appeared to be largely unaltered. There was not much evidence of rivets being replaced with bolts. The only major alteration was that some of the concrete encasement had been removed on some of the deck plate girder approach spans.
In 2014, this bridge is to undergo a massive rehabilitation project. Like any rehabilitation project, this will involve making some alterations to the original bridge design. While this loss in historic integrity will be unfortunate, one should not complain too much, since for a time, there was consideration given to demolishing and replacing this bridge. The loss of such a monumental historic bridge is unfathomable, so it is good that rehabilitation was selected in the end. One of the most substantial alterations will be the removal and replacement of the original railings, which is noteworthy because few bridges of this age that carry such heavy, high-speed traffic retain original vehicular railings... which also leads to why the railings are being replaced, there being a need for stronger railings that are crash tested. The solution is to use replica railings in the back, with steel crash two-tube guardrail in front. One of the nice aspects of the project, is historic replica lighting standards that will be similar to what was originally on the bridge (but has been lost) will be put on the bridge.
Information and Findings From New Jersey's Historic Bridge Inventory
Discussion of Bridge
The elevated continuous truss plus cantilever viaduct was the first major urban elevated highway in the U.S. and was an integral part of the first true limited-access highway in the U.S. It is generally considered one of the most handsome steel continuous truss bridges. Its construction was divided into four sections and let to four different contractor (from east to west): American Bridge, Phoenix Bridge, McClintic-Marshall, and Taylor-Fichter. The impressive structure is well preserved and It is individually eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C. It is also a contributing element of the US Routes 1&9 Historic District .
Discussion of Surrounding Area
The Skyway carries a four-lane super highway high over the Hackensack Meadows, two navigable rivers, and industrial areas of Jersey City and Kearny. It is part of the Rt. 1\9 Corridor and was built as the highway approach to the Holland Tunnel. It no longer carries trucks, which use the alternate US 1&9T truck route. The Skyway is a multi-span structure several miles long.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
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