Hell Gate Bridge
The New York Connecting Railroad runs on a viaduct from the Hell Gate Bridge across Wards Island and Randalls Island, gently descending into Port Morris on the other side of Bronx Kill.
The Hell Gate Bridge is a railroad-only bridge that connects Astoria, Queens and Port Morris in The Bronx. The bridge was originally conceived in 1892 by bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal and Pennsylvania Railroad engineer Oliver W. Barnes as part of a network that would permit Pennsylvania Railroad traffic to flow from New Jersey, through tunnels into and out of New York City and on up to New England. Lindenthal (who also initially wanted the project to include a suspension rail bridge over the Hudson River as well) was chosen as consulting engineer and architect in 1904. Lindenthal appointed Othmar Ammann as assistant chief engineer, a man who would later realize Lindenthal's Hudson River suspension bridge idea with the George Washington Bridge and, later, the Verrrzano-Narrows Bridge. Plans were finalized by 1907 and construction officially began on March 1, 1914. Construction was officially finished on September 30, 1916 and regular service over the bridge from Washington to Boston began in 1917.
The total length of the bridge including all approaches and viaducts is 3.2 miles. The main steel arch span is 1,017 feet and sits between a pair 250-foot concrete towers. The towers do not actually support the weight of the arch, although Lindenthal added non-structural connecting girders between the upper arch cords and the towers to give that reassuring appearance. The arch span provides a clearance of 135 feet above mean high water.
Little Hell Gate (the water separating Wards and Randalls Island which is now filled in) was traversed by four 300-foot deck arch spans with inverted bowstring trusses sitting on 155-foot towers. The final fixed truss span over Bronx Kill (also now largely filled in) is 350-feet long. The steel-arch span was the longest of its type in the world, until being surpassed by Ammann's Bayonne Bridge in 1931.
The approaches and viaducts surrounding the spans bring the bridge's total length to 16,900 feet - around 3.2 miles. The viaduct piers on Randall's and Ward's island were originally planned to be made of steel, but were changed to concrete during construction over fears that escaped Randall's Island inmates would climb the piers and escape over the bridge.
Lindenthal later proposed adding a deck for automobile traffic to the bridge during the design phase of the Triboro Bridge in the 1920s with spurs from the bridge to East 102nd Street and East 116th Street in Manhattan.
At the initiative of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan the bridge was refurbushed and repainted (Hell Gate Red) in a project that completed in 1996.
The bridge carries four separate tracks. The two southern tracks are used by Amtrak. The inner northern track is used by the freight lines and the northernmost track is unused. Presumably, a conversion for use by the Circumferential Subway would involve restoring the outer track for eastbound service and adding third rail electrificaton to both tracks. As such, Amtrak service on the southern pair of tracks would be largely unimpeded either by construction or slower subway service.
Wards and Randalls Islands are home to a number of civic institutions, including a truly fearsome looking mental hospital. It is also home to the Triboro bridge and the former Downing Football Stadium, which investor Carl Icahn got to rename after himself when he paid for a much-needed reconstruction of the outdated facility.
Wards Island and Randalls Island used to be separated by a tidal marsh. Lacking an appreciation for the importance of wetlands for water filtration, the marsh was filled in to expand available land on the island. A project to restore the marsh was initiated around 2007.
Next: The Wards Island Station