Another Record Holder

New York has a number of bridges that were, upon opening, the longest in the world of their type or the longest in the world of any type. Some (Brooklyn, George Washington, Verrazano) are well known. Some (Bayonne, Williamsburg) are not. The Marine Parkway Bridge, connecting Brooklyn with the Rockaway peninsula of Queens, is not. When it opened in 1937, it had the longest main span (540 feet) of any vertical-lift road bridge in the world, and was four feet shorter than the longest vertical lift, the Cape Cod Canal Rail Bridge. The longest vertical-lift span now is the Arthur Kill rail bridge, connecting Staten Island to New Jersey, which is only 18 feet longer. The main span of the Marine Parkway Bridge lifts from 55 feet above high water to 150 feet, but the question of why it does so gets a little convoluted.

The Rockaway peninsula is basically a barrier island that got captured on its east end, merging into the mainland of Long Island. Jamaica Bay is the water north of the peninsula, open to New York Bay on its west end at Rockaway Inlet. Jamaica Bay is shallow, with many small islands and not much current other than the tides, but there were plans for many years, starting in the late 1800s and culminating around 1920, to convert it to the new center of shipping in the area. At that time, it was a nearly rural part of the city, and as such was a good place to put noxious industries: for example, Barren Island, which is now part of Floyd Bennett Field, was a site for rendering horse carcasses. The idea was that the shipping waterfront would be moved from Manhattan and the harbor-facing shore of Brooklyn to the south shore of Brooklyn and Queens, which would mean a huge amount of dredging (to make the bay useable by big ships), landfill (to straighten and raise the shoreline), and rail and road infrastructure construction. Since none of this had any great reason to happen, it did not. The salt-water marshes, small islands, and open water are now part of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a national park.

The bridge carries Flatbush Avenue over the inlet, providing a direct connection to Rockaway from Brooklyn. This is useful for Brooklyners who want to visit the parks, and people in Rockaway who want to go shopping, but not for through traffic, as there is none. Southern Brooklyn and Rockaway are, in traffic terms, both dead ends and connecting them doesn’t do much. But when the bridge was built, there was still some believe that Jamaica Bay might have a future in shipping, so the bridge has a lift.

I have no idea why the bridge was renamed after Gil Hodges. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and managed the New York Mets, which gave him a connection to both boroughs connected by the bridge, but I’m probably overthinking that question.

The picture up top was taken by Patrick Cashin for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the bridge.

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