From a distance the George Washington Bridge might look shiny and new – but the cables and vertical suspender ropes holding it up are still the originals, and they’re 80 years old.
Now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is moving ahead with a major renovation of the GWB’s wiring that will replace its four main cables and nearly 600 suspension ropes. The Port Authority’s board greenlighted the first $15 million for the project Thursday.
“The replacement is itself a billion-dollar project,” Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye told NBC New York. "The George Washington Bridge cables and suspender ropes are going to be replaced. They have to. They're original."
The normal lifespan of such bridge wiring is about 70 years. Port Authority officials say the bridge is in no danger of collapsing, but they are getting ahead of the curve before the aging ropes become a problem.
"I think it's an expense that needs to be taken because our safety – what if those cables go bad?” said Nazier Coley of Hackensack. “I'd be very afraid to go over that bridge every day."
Driver Mike Scarlatos of Hamilton Heights agrees.
"Can you imagine living without the GW Bridge? So, yes, it's worthwhile,” he said.
The large, complicated undertaking will require the Port Authority to replace only up to three of the suspender ropes – which weigh between 1,500 and 10,000 pounds each – at a time, according to The New York Times. (Each rope itself contains 283 wires.)
But the painstaking replacement process, modeled after what San Francisco did with its revamp of the Golden Gate Bridge, will allow the GWB to be refurbished without closing the span to cars.
It will also put thousands of people to work from New Jersey and New York, Foye said.
"We're going to need lots of construction workers from both states, to refurbish the bridge, so it's very exciting in terms of job creation,” he said.
But it is not so exciting for drivers who are footing the bill through higher tolls – and may have to sit in tougher traffic during what is projected to be an eight-year renovation.
"The E-ZPass should be lower,” said Jane Kent of Cliffside Heights. “I don't understand where all the money's going."