Willis Avenue Bridge Arrives at New Home

Monday, Jul 26, 2010  |  Updated 12:42 PM EDT
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Bridge on a Boat

The bridge will link Manhattan and the Bronx.

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Bridge on a Boat

An unusual sight on the East River Monday morning! It's a bridge on a boat. The new Willis Avenue bridge departed from a dock in New Jersey and then passed under the Brooklyn Bridge, en route to its new home on the Harlem river. In August it replaces the current bridge, connecting Manhattan's first avenue to Willis avenue in the Bronx. The new 600 million dollar bridge began its journey in upstate New York, traveling more than a hundred miles on the Hudson River.
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A prefabricated 350-foot-long bridge that will replace a 109-year-old span across the Harlem River arrived Monday aboard two barges that were pushed and pulled by tugboats.

The 2,400-ton swing bridge passed under the Brooklyn Bridge at 8 a.m., on its way to its home, just south of the old Willis Avenue Bridge. The new bridge will be tied up to the shoreline until it is installed, beginning in two weeks. The city Department of Transportation hopes to have traffic rolling across the span in November.

The new bridge connecting Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx will replace a span that opened in 1901 and carries more than 70,000 vehicles a day. The existing Willis Avenue Bridge will remain open to traffic as the new span is floated into place atop foundations and piers.

The new bridge was built for the transportation department at a privately owned port in Coeymans, near Albany. Two weeks ago, a marine transportation crew loaded the finished span onto the barges that were welded together for the 130-mile trip down the Hudson River to a dock in Bayonne, N.J.

On Monday, the span was hauled from Bayonne 15 miles north through the East River to its final destination.

The last leg of the journey was via the East River because the load's height, 82 feet from the barges' decks to the bridge's top crossbeam, was too tall for the low bridges over the narrow Harlem River.

Getting 4.8 million pounds of steel onto the barges two weeks ago required four 50-foot-long steel ramps connecting the vessels' decks to the docks. The move was timed to the peak of high tide.

The 4 1/2-hour process involved precise measuring of the height of the tide and pumping ballast water through the barges to keep them level with the dock.

All the heavy lifting was carried out by a crew from Mammoet, a Dutch company that specializes in moving extraordinarily large objects. Its past projects include raising the Russian submarine Kursk after it was sunk by an explosion a decade ago, and transporting the 400-foot-long, 5.5-million pound new Providence River Bridge 12 miles up Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay in August 2006.

Barend Schuring, Mammoet's project manager for the bridge job, said each barge was 180 feet long and, when welded together, had a total width of 108 feet.

A crew from Weeks Marine Inc. was handling the bridge transportation in a joint venture with the Kiewit Corp., the Omaha, Neb.-based construction company contracted by New York City for the $612 million bridge replacement project.

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