After 78 traffic-choked years, the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Bridge, which daily conveys nearly 200,000 cars and trucks over Newtown Creek and adjacent industrial areas, is ceasing operations around midnight on Thursday.
The pre-World War II span is getting a 21st Century replacement with the same difficult-to-pronounce name. It is the city’s first cable-stayed bridge, deploying a modern engineering technique that has spread across the country and the world over the last 20 years.
“I believe that Queens and Brooklyn deserve a beautiful bridge and a bridge that graces the Queens and Brooklyn skyline,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “And that is exactly what this bridge is going to do.”
Cuomo was joined by marching bands, dignitaries and construction workers, all gathering to open the city’s first major span since the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge went up in 1964, connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn. A representative from the Polish consul spoke, and a community group from Greenpoint, all decked out in traditional Polish garb, took a photo with the governor.
Cuomo arrived at the ceremony in an antique car — the 1932 Packard that belonged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Cuomo, an automobile hobbyist, interrupted budget negotiations in March to see the car off from a museum display in Albany to a repair shop, so he could trot it out for occasions like this one.
“I brought it today to commemorate today and to bring the spirit of FDR to this bridge,” he said.
Cuomo is a self-professed admirer of FDR, mentioning New York’s governor-turned-president every chance he gets.
He also acknowledged the Revolutionary War military engineer for whom the bridge is named. Kosciuszko was responsible for fortifications at West Point and throughout the north and south.
There’s widespread disagreement among New Yorkers about how to say his name, with some insisting it’s “kah-SHOO-sko,” and others equally adamant that it’s “kah-skee-YOU-sko.” Modern Poles seem to favor the first. Second-and third-generation Polish-Americans apparently lean toward the latter.
The other main thing the bridge is known for is legendary traffic jams, at all hours of day and night.
Cuomo, a Queens native, recounted crossing it constantly in his youth to visit his mother’s family in Brooklyn. His father, future governor Mario Cuomo, tried fruitlessly to outsmart traffic patterns.
“The first time I heard my father use expletives was on this bridge,” the younger Cuomo said Thursday.
The new six-lane span is a one-for-one replacement of the old one. Transportation planners make no promises that by itself, it will decrease bottlenecks and expletives. But this is just Phase I. When the old bridge is removed and a second span replaces it, doubling the total lanes to 12, planners say traffic will accelerate 65 percent.
“I think even before that you’ll see traffic improve,” said Larry Gillman, project manager for Skanska USA, which holds the $555 million construction contract with New York. “The new bridge is much lower and flatter, and you don’t have that steep incline that slowed so many trucks down.”
The second span is expected to be completed in 2020. Then, one will carry Brooklyn-bound cars and trucks, and the other will carry Queens-bound traffic.
The total cost for both spans is projected to be $825 million.