It was a bittersweet moment for one of the neighborhood’s icons – the Kosciuszko Bridge turned 75 years old on Sunday, but with safety issues necessitating a replacement bridge, the oft-maligned bridge likely won’t make it to 76.
The bridge opened in 1939 to replace the existing Meeker Avenue Bridge that connected Greenpoint and Maspeth.
The bridge was built largely in response to the large amount of ship traffic that traversed Newtown Creek, the water body above which the bridge is located.
Before it was constructed, the only way to get across was a series of drawbridges, similar to the Pulaski Bridge, but the drawbridges hindered traffic traveling between the two boroughs.
Each time a ship was traveling along the creek, the bridge had to lift or rotate to let the sea traffic pass.
When designing the new bridge in the 1930s, engineers decided to construct a steep incline that would allow for the tall masts of certain ships to pass through unaffected, and for the smooth movement of road traffic.
However as the years rolled on, and the creek went out of commercial use, the incline on the bridge became increasingly apparent, particularly to truck drivers, which in turn slowed down the flow of traffic.
The new bridge will address that problem by bringing the elevation down by 35 feet, making the incline much flatter for vehicles.
The Bridge was named for Tadeusz Kościuszko, remembered as the leader of the 1794 uprising named after him against the kingdom of Prussia and Russian imperialist forces that held sway in Poland at the time.
In the United States he is remembered as one of the heroes of the American Revolutionary War where he fought along George Washington and the Continental Army, and ironically is known to have blown up bridges that prevented the advancement of the British troops.
Naming the bridge after him was a symbol of the increased closeness between the United States and Poland, and was important marker of the United States’ commitment to the country, particularly considering the large Polish community in Greenpoint, and the fact that just nine days after the Bridge was completed in 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
The replacement bridge will keep the name.
Today, the reconstruction project, valued at over half a billion dollars is the single largest project undertaken by the New York State Department of Transportation, and when complete will incorporate a cable-stayed design similar to the reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
“The New York State Department of Transportation is constructing the new Kosciuszko Bridge to improve traffic safety, reduce congestion and improve travel speeds,” said a spokesperson for the State DOT. “The bridge’s cable-stayed design will create a signature element between Brooklyn and Queens, transforming the New York City skyline for the next 100 years.”