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Spanning the East River between Lower East Side of Manhattan and Williamsburg section of Brooklyn

Index to Projects in New York

New York, New York

1,600 ft. main span,
2,922 ft. total

Technical Advisory Committee for the Williamsburg Bridge, City of New York

Time Frame
Planning: 1987–
Proposal: March 1988

Proposal For a
New Williamsburg Bridge

New York, New York
Preliminary design completed 1988


Lead Designers:

Structural Engineer:



Henry N. Cobb
Harold Fredenburgh

Dr. Bruno


Replacement for corroding 1903 bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan

Click on image to enlarge

This proposal calls for the erection of a cable-stayed bridge just 48 feet to the south side of the existing bridge. Construction, executed over 32 months, would be accomplished without interruption of navigation, vehicular traffic or mass transit. Upon completion of the bridge, sections of the approach viaducts would be laterally launched — literally slipped into place — and attached to existing touchdown points in Manhattan and Brooklyn, requiring a one-time traffic shutdown of only 80 hours.

The bridge has a central span of 1,600 feet and side spans of 661 feet. The main bridge deck and viaducts consist of 10-foot reinforced concrete slabs that rest on transverse beams spaced 22 feet apart, and provide a system for deck replacement without auxiliary support. The width of the deck is kept to a minimum (105 feet) by locating transit below the roadway. This strategy permits simpler structural solutions and a more advantageous placement of supports, while providing the bridge with a slender appearance and avoiding unnecessary impingements on the land at either end.  The tracks are rerouted in Brooklyn to skirt the south side of Washington Plaza, instead of bisecting it as they do today, in order to enhance the urban potential of the area.

Two Delta-Frame bridge towers rise 585 feet above the river. Each encloses the top cable anchors of the bridge in humidity-controlled chambers for protection against corrosion. Other innovative systems facilitate the inspection and renewal of bottom anchors and the replacement of cables without temporary strengthening. The legs of each tower, twisted 90 degrees, yield necessary longitudinal stiffness at the base of the bridge and the required transverse stiffness at the top, all within the context of an elegant architectural solution.

Motorists and subway passengers enjoy skyline views through open construction while pedestrians and bicyclists, removed from traffic on an upper timber deck, enjoy spectacular views in every direction. Scenic remnants of the granite abutments of the old bridge are incorporated as belvederes into pedestrian systems on either side of the river, and are supplemented in Manhattan by a new foot ramp to the East River esplanade. A new vehicular link to the FDR Drive is also proposed to alleviate congestion. Improvements to the Brooklyn embankment include a new bus facility and green market on land gained from the realigned tracks.


Major Components

Cable-stayed 1,600 ft. main span, 661 ft. side spans; Delta-Frame towers: legs rotate through 90°, join at 432 ft. above water; tower height 585 ft. above water; road deck 170 ft. above water; navigational clearance: 135 ft.; three transit tracks below road deck; timber deck above roadway for pedestrian/bike access


The Swiss American Team

Prof. Dr. Bruno Thürliman, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland

VSL International Ltd., Berne, Switzerland

Wenaweser & Wolfensberger AG, Zurich, Switzerland

I. M. Pei & Partners, New York, NY

Travers Associates, Clifton, NJ



Photo credits

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