Willis Ave bridge open to traffic

The Willis Avenue bridge is open for business.

On Saturday, October 2, the new Willis Avenue bridge was opened to Bronx-bound motorists after 18 months of construction. The facility replaces the aging structure that for more than 100 years has been a major route over the Harlem River, connecting Manhattan and the Bronx.

“The fact that they replaced a bridge that was so old is a big positive for the borough,” Bronx Chamber of Commerce executive director Lenny Caro said. “Fixing the connection so people can come from Manhattan to shop in the Bronx without having to go through the construction is a great thing, especially with attractions like the new Yankee Stadium.”

The new bridge is a 2,400-ton, 250-foot long steel structure that will open on a pivot to allow nautical traffic to pass under the river. According to city Department of Transportation officials, the bridge will eliminate tight turns and features wider driving lanes and improved connections with surrounding roadways, including a direct connection with the northbound Major Deegan Expressway.

New amenities, such as a bike lane, have also been included on the structure.

About 70,000 vehicles pass over the structure every day, so it is a vital part of transportation through the city, said Cedric Loftin, district manager of Community Board 1, an area that includes the bridge’s exit end.

“This will greatly enhance the connections to our district and other portions of the Bronx, as well as Westchester County and Upstate New York,” he said. “The old bridge really had reached the end of its useful life here and we feel the installation of the new swing structure is really something that will be positive for the city.”

The structure replaces the span that was built in 1901.

Construction on the new bridge began in March 2009 at facilities upstate.

Over the summer the structure was barged down the Hudson River before it was put into place alongside the aging bridge in late August.

Since then, crews have been working to install the final pieces to make the new bridge operable. The $612 project was part of a $5 billion investment in bridges citywide.

According to Loftin, the construction has not caused many problems for motorists.

“We thank the community for being patient, because there were changes in traffic patterns and things can get a little noisy with construction,” he said. “We hope they can reduce the levels of noise during this last phase of construction.”

According to DOT officials, the old span will be removed in the coming weeks and barged down to New Jersey, where it will be recycled.

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