When picking bridge examples to discuss here, I make an effort to look all over the US. That’s partly to get some variety to the examples and partly to offset the natural tendency for a New Yorker to be extremely parochial. There’s a line by John Updike, which I’ve used in a number of presentations, that does a nice job of describing that parochialism: The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding. In any case, today’s example is on the Long Island Railroad, in suburban Nassau County (not [!] NYC).
The viaduct was constructed in 1897 on what was then the brand-new Great Neck & Port Washington Railroad. For a relatively small area (Long Island is about 110 miles long and about 15 miles wide at the maximum) the railroad history of the island is ridiculously complicated. There were a number of attempts to build a line from Long Island City – a large town on the East River – to the east, hitting the major north-shore towns. These ancestors of what is today the Port Washington branch of the Long Island Railroad focused first on connecting Long Island City to Flushing (i.e., connecting two of the three large towns in modern-day Queens) and then headed east to Little Neck and Great Neck (AKA West Egg and East Egg for all the Great Gatsby fans out there). The west half of the north shore of Long Island is marked by a series of bays that are deep north-to-south: from west to east, Flushing Bay, Little Neck Bay, Manhasset Bay, Hempstead Bay, Oyster Bay, and Huntington Bay. The centers of the bigger towns along this route were mostly near the south ends of the bays, so a route that connected them would either have to pass south of the towns, bridge the ends of the bays and the streams feeding into them, or do both at different towns. The Great Neck & Port Washington Railroad was created to run about three miles between the centers of the two towns, cutting across the stream at the south end of Manhasset Bay. At its west end, it connected to the extent rail line from Long Island City to Great Neck by way of Flushing. The end of the bay and the stream are in a valley that is, for the very flat landscape of Long Island, relatively deep. Hence the viaduct.
It’s still in use, in part, because nearly all of the traffic on the line is commuter rail, which has not increased in weight the way that freight has. The line runs straight to the east and west of the viaduct, so you can’t really see it from a train (I’ve been over that viaduct dozens of times), but if you’re watching out the window it’s quite noticeable the way the close-up trees and hills fall away and suddenly you’ve got a wide-open and elevated view of the bay (to the north) and marshland (to the south). Compared to most of the steel bridges I’ve talked about here, it’s not very high or very long, but in context it’s a notable structure.
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