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MTA Bridges and Tunnels Celebrates 85th Anniversary of Bronx-Whitestone Bridge Opening

Bridges and Tunnels
Updated April 29, 2024 1:00 p.m.
MTA Bridges and Tunnels Celebrates 85th Anniversary of Bronx-Whitestone Bridge Opening

See Photos on Display Celebrating Anniversary in Grand Central Terminal


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today is celebrating the 85th anniversary of the opening of MTA Bridges and Tunnel’s Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, which opened on April 29, 1939, in conjunction with the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The bridge was built as part of a new highway network that allowed drivers from upstate New York to get to Queens and Long Island without going through Manhattan and western Queens and became a key factor in the growth of Long Island after World War II.

To celebrate the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s 85th anniversary, a display has been installed in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Passage. The display features historic photos from the MTA Bridges & Tunnels Special Archive collection and artifacts from the bridge’s storied past, including an original mercury vapor necklace light that illuminated the bridge for nearly 77 years before being replaced with highly efficient LED lighting in 2016. 

“The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is a critical connection for New York City and the region, linking two boroughs – the Bronx and Queens – and connecting Hudson Valley counties to Long Island,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Today we celebrate this majestic feat of engineering, which has served billions of drivers over the past 85 years.”

“Whether it’s daily commuters getting to work, or delivery drivers moving goods across boroughs, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge has been moving hundreds of thousands of drivers across the Long Island Sound every day for 85 years,” said MTA Bridges and Tunnels President Cathy Sheridan. “We look forward to celebrating even more milestones for the bridge as it continues to serve drivers in the Bronx, Queens and across the region.”

The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened to traffic on April 29, 1939, the day before the start of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where the theme was “Building the World of Tomorrow.” The bridge’s sleek, streamlined style was in keeping with that theme.

The idea for the bridge began with Robert Moses, who as chairman of the Metropolitan Council on Parks, proposed building it as part of his planned Belt Parkway system. Moses, who would become Chairman of the Triborough Bridge Authority (a pre-cursor to MTA Bridges and Tunnels), envisioned motorists leisurely using the parkway system to make their way through four of the five boroughs. He persuaded the New York State Legislature, and construction contracts for the bridge were awarded in June 1937.

Moses wanted the bridge opened in time for the World’s Fair, a mission he accomplished. The bridge was completed in just 23 months. Each of its towers was erected in 18 days and it took just 41 days to construct the bridge’s two cables. In 1939, its 2,300-foot main suspension span was the fourth longest in the world, surpassed in length only by the Golden Gate and Transbay Bridges in San Francisco and the George Washington Bridge.

Othmar Hermann Ammann was the chief engineer during the building process and Allston Dana was its engineer of design. These two were also responsible for the design of the Triborough Bridge, now known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge.

In 2020, amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, MTA Bridges & Tunnels completed a significant project on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge: improving access to the Whitestone Expressway and Cross Island Parkway and adding upgrades like a full-width right shoulder, new guide rails, a new LED roadway lighting system, and a new overhead sign structure. These upgrades led to a 75 percent reduction in vehicle collisions on the bridge. The project team finished the work in eight weeks, capitalizing on the lower traffic volumes during the pandemic.

Bronx-Whitestone Bridge by The Numbers:

  • In its first full year of operation, the bridge was used by 6.3 million vehicles. In 2023 it was used by over 50 million vehicles. The average daily traffic on the bridge is nearly 140,000 vehicles.
  • Total cost of the bridge: $17,785,000 in 1939 ($4,042,475,000 in 2024)
  • Passenger toll when opened: 25-cents; in 2024: E-ZPass $6.94 or $11.19 Tolls by Mail
  • Height of towers above mean high water: 377 feet
  • Width between cables: 74 feet
  • Length of main span: 2,300 feet
  • Number of cables: 2; length of each cable, 3,965 feet
  • Total number of wires in each cable: 9,842
  • Total length of the cable wires equals 14,800 miles