Max Miller • Jun 20, 2017
Is Staten Island part of New Jersey? This is not a question I would like to cover today. I know it's important to many people, but it seems fraught with controversy and potentially unanswerable.
I only mention this to justify this article's existence on a New Jersey website. Whether or not the Goethals Bridge qualifies as an interstate or wholly NJ bridge, I'm not sure, but it's not up for debate that the Goethals Bridge is important to many New Jerseyans' lives.
The Goethals Bridge was named after Major General George Washington Goethals, the Belgian-American engineer who supervised the construction of the Panama Canal. It first opened in 1928, on the same day as the Outerbridge Crossing. Impressive timing! (Did you know that the Outerbridge Crossing is named after Eugenius Harvey Outerbridge, the then-chairman of the Port Authority? Seems like this could be a cruel joke someone is playing on me via Wikipedia, but its sources check out. I look forward to learning more about Mr. Outerbridge on this website's coverage of him and his bridge.) The bridge is part of Interstate 278, connecting the New Jersey Turnpike with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It also has connections to US Route 9 in NJ as well as New York State Route 440, on Staten Island.
Before the Goethals's construction, the only way to cross Arthur Kill, the narrow waterway between NJ and SI, was to take a ferry. However, it was not the first bridge to ever cross the Kill. The first ferry service between Elizabethtown NJ and Howland Hook SI began in 1671. Service was disrupted, however, during the Revolutionary War, when the British used the island as headquarters. They built a small pontoon bridge as access to the mainland. However, it blocked navigation of the waterway, and was dismantled after the war. There was not another bridge until 1890, when businessman Erastus Wiman connected the North Shore Staten Island Railway to NJ. This rail bridge was rarely used for passenger service, instead serving as a vital freight artery as well as transporting troops to the Atlantic Ocean for both World Wars.
In the early 20th century, Staten Islanders realized that their isolation could not persist forever, and eventually accepted their role as a fully-fledged borough of New York City. Replacing the ferries with two bridges built simultaneously would increase economic activity, and the bridges were expected to pay for themselves via tolls within ten years. (This did not happen until the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964, which completed the island's connectivity.)
The original Goethals Bridge, as well as its sister Outerbridge, was a cantilever bridge, a popular Art Deco-inspired design at this time in history. Other contemporary cantilevers include the Queensboro, the Tappan Zee, and of course, NJ's famous Pulaski Skyway.
As you may have heard, however, the Goethals is being replaced. Its famously narrow lanes no longer acceptable, the original Goethals was officially put out of service on June 9, 2017. It will be replaced with two spans of cable-stayed bridges, a now-popular bridge design being implemented in the replacement bridges of the Tappan Zee as well as the Goethals's fellow I-278 bridge, the Kosciuszko. The first span opened on June 10, 2017, and the second span is expected to be completed in 2018.
The first time I ever drove on the Goethals, I was being picked up by my aunt to stay with her at her home in Long Island. This must have been sometime in the late 1990s. I knew about the Verrazano Bridge, having Brooklyn and Staten Island in my blood, but I had never heard of this Goethals Bridge. I watched in awe as my aunt traversed the narrow lanes, clutching the wheel tightly while trying to keep me entertained in the backseat.
By coincidence, I happened to ride on the new Goethals last weekend, the day after the new span opened. My parents had offered to drive me from Red Bank NJ to their home in Brooklyn, from where I could make my way home to Queens. My mom, the Staten Islander, was delighted with the new ride, even posting on Instagram about her experience. I had a more vicarious experience, but enjoyed the new piece of NJ infrastructure just the same.
1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goethals_Bridge
2 - http://newyorkyimby.com/2016/08/goethals-bridge-replacement-twin-spans-on-track-to-become-citys-first-new-crossing-in-half-a-century.html