The Bear Mountain Bridge
As the oldest of NYSBA’s bridges, Bear Mountain Bridge was the first vehicular river crossing between New York City and Albany. At the time it was built, it was also the longest suspension bridge in the world and the first suspended bridge to have a concrete deck.
The project of building the Bear Mountain Bridge marked the beginning of a golden age of long span bridge building along the Hudson River and throughout the New York metropolitan area.
The success of the inventive methods used broke new ground and paved the way for the building of other suspension bridges, such as the George Washington and the Golden Gate.
The popularity of nearby Bear Mountain State Park, which opened in the 1910s, led to the need for a span across the river to replace the ferryboats which could no longer accommodate the crowds and their automobiles.
February 1922, the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company, a privately financed entity, was created through a bill passed by the New York State Legislature, allowing for a vehicular bridge to be built across the Hudson at Bear Mountain. Under the bill’s terms, the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company was given 3 years to construct the bridge and its highway approaches on state-owned land. The Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company would then operate the bridge for a 35-year period, after which, New York State would assume responsibility for the bridge. The state however, did have the option to take over the bridge at an earlier time for a price specified by law.
On November 26, 1924, Mary Harriman, mother of Mr. E. Roland Harriman, President of the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company, helped preside over the formal opening day ceremonies with the bridge being officially opened to traffic on Thanksgiving Day.
The New York State Bridge Authority purchased the Bear Mountain Bridge from the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company on September 26, 1940 for $2,275,000. One of NYSBA’s first achievements was to lower the basic passenger car rate from $.80 to $.50 each way. On January 1, 1942, the toll was lowered further to $.35 and then to $.25 each way on July 15, 1945. Tolls today are collected only in the eastbound direction and are the same rate as the other spans operated by the Bridge Authority.
Since the Bridge Authority assumed stewardship of the Bear Mountain Bridge, annual traffic has grown from just under 483,000 vehicle crossings at the end of WWII to more than 7.8 million in 2019, its 95th anniversary year.
In 2018, an act of the State Legislature, introduced by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and Senator Bill Larkin, bestowed the ceremonial designation Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bear Mountain Bridge. A special commemoration was held on November 12, 2018 to unveil signs with the new designation. The ceremonial name not only pays tribute to soldiers who were killed or wounded in defense of the United States, but also recognizes the Hudson Valley’s connection to the creation of the Purple Heart and the Valley’s continued connection to the military and its history.
The Bear Mountain Bridge will celebrate 100 years of service in 2024.
Construction of the bridge began immediately following the March 24, 1922 signing of the contract. The Bear Mountain Bridge would be the longest suspension bridge in existence at the time of its opening. The location was unusually well-suited for a suspension bridge as the river narrows at this point and the rock formation provides a natural foundation for the piers and necessary anchorages for the cables.
The three year time limit imposed upon the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company to construct the bridge, however, played an interesting part in its final look. There was considerable public concern that the scenic beauty of the Highlands would be marred by the “tin frumpery” of the bridge. An editorial in the New York Times dated July 20, 1923, titled “An Infliction of Ugliness on the Hudson” chastised the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company for its plans to build a bridge “wholly out of accord with the scenery around it and indicative only of a desire on the part of the builders to make it as cheaply as they can.”
In a New York Times article the next day, J.B. White, President of the Palisades Park Commission came to the defense of the bridge design, declaring that the published plans were out of date and that changes to the project were being made. Many argued for the use of masonry towers rather than steel but that would have made the construction deadline impossible to meet. Baird and Hodges, the design engineers, made modifications to the portals to provide a more “tunnel-like” appearance, mimicking the contours of the bridge’s surroundings.
Work on the east highway approach began in April 1923. The road is cut out of the south face of Anthony’s Nose to the east at an elevation of 410 feet above the river. Almost the entire structure of the roadway required excavation and fill. Due to the granite terrain, 70% of the material had to be drilled and blasted. The road was accessible only at the eastern end and to add to the complexity of the construction, the New York Central Railroad tracks where situated directly below 5,000 feet of the highway. This meant that all methods of construction in this section of the highway had to revolve around the continuous and safe operation of the railroad.
Just 20 months and four days after the contract was signed, the longest suspension bridge in the world was completed without the loss of a single life.
In 2006, additional support cables were constructed and a supplemental anchorage was imbedded into the bedrock on the south side of the bridge. These new cables allow the Bridge Authority to constantly monitor changing conditions.
Bear Mountain Bridge
Peekskill / Fort Montgomery Crossing – State Routes 6 & 202