This bridge is part of a unique setting where three historic vertical lift truss bridges are found side by side. The Wittpenn Bridge is the only one that carries highway traffic, the others are railroad bridges. A fourth lift bridge (also a railroad bridge) is located a bit north as well. Literally right beside this bridge immediately to the south is the Harsimus Branch Lift Bridge. The height of this bridge above the waterway is lower than the WittPenn Bridge. This means that sometimes the railroad bridge operates for boats when the Wittpenn Bridge does not. It is nearly impossible to photograph because of the way it is sandwiched between two bridges. South of that bridge a short distance is the PATH Lift Bridge.
This bridge has a through truss lift span with a horizontal top chord. However, the towers transition into short through truss spans at either end that have a polygonal top chord, which gives the illusion of a Parker through truss that is one span that includes the lift span and the two tower spans, one at each end. Moving southeast from the tower spans, there is a Pratt through truss with a horizontal top chord and vertical end posts. Then, there are two fixed Camelback through truss spans. As such, there is certainly an unusual variety of designs of trusses on this bridge. The truss spans are all visually linked by extensions of the trusses at each pier point that make the bridge look continuous even though the spans are all simple in nature. This bridge is also unique because of its curved roadway alignment. As such, the fixed through truss approach spans that lead up to the main through truss lift span do not line up with each other, giving the bridge a unique appearance. Additional complexity is found in the fact that this bridge's lift span is skewed. Lift bridges appear to have been preferred for skewed crossings because they were easier to design than skewed bascule bridges. This bridge also has a long series of girder approach spans. Because of all these unique designs, this is a bridge that has no twin to be sure!
The bridge was designed by the same engineer who designed the nearby Pulaski Skyway, Sigvald Johannesson. He hired Harrington, Howard and Ash as consultants. This firm was earlier known as Waddell and Harrington, and they invented the modern vertical lift bridge, and remained experts in the design of such bridges. The contractor was the Strobel Steel Construction Company of Chicago, unsurprising since this contractor erected many movable bridges in Chicago, making the construction of this bridge a typical affair for their company.
This historic bridge is as of 2013 being replaced by a new fixed high level bridge. The replacement bridge will be next to the historic bridge. As such, the historic bridge is not in the way of its replacement. As such, this bridge does not deserve to be demolished. It should be left standing next to its replacement. Its lift span could be raised permanently and it could be closed off and left standing as a non-functional historic monument. Alternatively, it could be left operable and used as a pedestrian bridge. However, these preservation solutions appear to have been ignored in favor of the short-sighted decision to demolish the bridge.
Information and Findings From New Jersey's Historic Bridge Inventory
Discussion of Bridge
The bridge is a major movable lift bridge which is especially impressive in the context of three such bridges. The vertical lift span is a skewed Parker truss, and the east approach spans are two camelback thru trusses and a modified Pratt thru truss span. Sources credit Stroebel Steel with building all the superstructure; Harrington, Howard and Ash with consulting on the movable span; Johanneson as design engineer. W.J. Sloan was chief engineer of the NJ State Highway Department. It is individually eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C, and may be a contributing element to two potentially eligible historic districts -- Hackensack River Bridges and Pennsylvania Railroad Harsimus Branch (Jersey City to Kearny). These districts would focus on transportation and bridge historic resources.
Discussion of Surrounding Area
The bridge crosses a major navigable river in the Hackensack Meadows, while the east approaches are surrounded by an urban industrial district. It shares common piers with an adjacent railroad bridge of the same type built at the same time; all were built in response to a requirement to provide a minimum 35' vertical clearance when closed. It was named for Otto Wittpenn, member of the State Highway Commission, 1929-31.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
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