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Editor’s Note: One of the most significant achievements of the Public Works Administration was helping finance constructing the Triborough Bridge in New York City. The following excerpt from Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker provides some scope into the Triborough Bridge project:
Here was a project to kindle the imagination. In size, its proportions were heroic. For all Moses’ previous construction feats, it dwarfed any other single enterprise he had undertaken. Its approach ramps would be so huge that houses – not only single-family homes but also sizable apartment buildings – would have to be demolished by the hundreds to give them footing. Its approaches, the masses of concrete in which its cables would be embedded, would be as big as any pyramid built by an Egyptian Pharaoh, its roadways wider than the widest roadways built by the Caesars of Rome. To construct those anchorages and to pave those roadways (just the roadways of the bridge proper itself, not the approach roads) would require enough concrete to pave a four-lane highway from New York to Philadelphia, enough to reopen Depression-shuttered cement factories from Maine to the Mississippi. To make the girders on which that concrete would be laid, Depression-banked furnaces would have to be fired up at no fewer than fifty separate Pennsylvania steel mills. To provide enough lumber for the forms into which that concrete would be poured, an entire forest would have to crash on the Pacific Coast on the opposite side of the American continent. Triborough was not really a bridge at all, but four bridges which, together with 13,500 feet of broad viaducts, would link together three boroughs and two islands.
Triborough was not a bridge so much as a traffic machine, the largest ever built. The amount of human energy that would be expended in its construction gives some idea of its immensity: more than five thousand men would be working at the site, and these men would be putting into place the materials furnished by the labor of many times five thousand men; before the Triborough Bridge was completed, its construction would have generated more than 31,000,000 man-hours of work in 134 cities in twenty states. And the size of the bridge is also shown by the amount of money involved. With $5,400,000 already contributed by the city and $44,200,000 promised by the PWA (Public Works Administration), the amount promised for its construction was almost equal to the combined cost of all the projects Robert Moses had built on Long Island during the previous ten years.
In an average month, about 1,000 construction workers were at the site of the Triborough Bridge. However, in the months leading to the July 1936 deadline, the number of construction workers swelled to about 2,800.
The Triborough Bridge opened on July 11, 1936 at a cost of $60.3 million. The new Triborough Bridge Authority, which had its administrative offices at the Randall’s Island toll plaza, financed $35 million of the construction costs. The bonds were backed by 25-cent tolls. Federal, state and city outlays financed the remainder of the costs. More than 15,000 invited guests were at the dedication ceremony, at which President Franklin Roosevelt, Mayor LaGuardia and Commissioner Moses spoke.
Address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Dedication of the Triborough Bridge, New York City
July 11, 1936
Governor Lehman, Mayor LaGuardia, Secretary Ickes, Commissioner (Robert) Moses, ladies and gentlemen:
`MANY of you who are here today, old people like myself, can remember that, when we were boys and girls, the greater part of what is now the Boroughs of the Bronx and Queens was cultivated as farm land. A little further back, but not much more than a hundred years ago, my own great-grandfather owned a farm in Harlem, right across there [indicating], close to the Manhattan approach of this bridge. But I am quite sure, Bob Moses, that he never dreamed of the bridge.
In the older days there was no need for a structure like this connecting Long Island and Manhattan and the mainland; and even if a vast population in those days had needed it, human ingenuity and engineering skill could not have built it.
Some of us who are charged with the responsibilities of Government pause from time to time to ask ourselves whether human needs and human inventions are going to change as rapidly in the generations to come as they have in the generation that has passed. It is not alone that, as time goes by, we are confronted with new needs created by hitherto undreamed of conditions; it is also because growth in human knowledge labels as needs today things which in the olden days we did not think of as needs.
For example, it was not so long ago that no one used to protest against the dumping of sewage and garbage into our rivers and harbors. No one used to protest that our schoolhouses were badly ventilated and badly lighted. No one used to protest because there were no playgrounds for children in crowded tenement areas. No one used to protest against firetraps and factory smoke.
In those days Government was not interested in helping to provide bathing beaches, swimming pools and recreational areas; nor had those who toiled in those days conceived the thought that they were entitled to at least one day of rest in seven or entitled to an annual vacation.
There are a few among us, luckily only a few, who still, consciously or unconsciously, live in a state of constant protest against the daily processes of meeting modern needs. Most of us, I am glad to say, are willing to recognize change and to give it reasonable and constant help.
Government itself, whether it be that of a city or that of a sovereign State or that of the union of States, must, if it is to survive, recognize change and give to new needs reasonable and constant help. Government itself cannot close its eyes to the pollution of waters, to the erosion of soil, to the slashing of forests, any more than it can close its eyes to the need for slum clearance and schools and bridges. Government itself is, of necessity, more complex because all life is more complex. The machinery of government and the cost of government under Mayor Seth Low in 1901, for example, would not serve the essential needs of the people of the City of New York in the days of Mayor LaGuardia in 1936. People require and people are demanding up-to-date government in place of antiquated government, just as they are requiring and demanding Triborough Bridges in the place of ancient ferries.
This Triborough Bridge was neither in its conception nor in its building a matter of purely local concern. Nation, State and city, each in its own way, have contributed to the gigantic undertaking. And it will serve the people not only in all the boroughs of this largest of cities; it will serve also the people of Long Island, of up-state New York and our neighbors of Connecticut and New Jersey; and it will serve the hundreds of thousands of those living in all the other States and in foreign countries, who visit New York on matters of business and of pleasure. And so you see that the United States has an interest and a stake in this bridge.
At a time of great human suffering the construction of this bridge was undertaken among the very first of the tens of thousands of projects launched by States and counties and municipalities and financed in part with Federal funds.
- You, Governor Lehman, and you, Mayor LaGuardia, are personally familiar with this great array of public improvements. You know of the other tunnels and bridges, of the sewage disposal programs, of the schoolhouse and hospital construction, of the additions and repairs to public buildings and public enterprises of every kind. Because of your deep personal interest in all of this work, you have visualized its progress in every part of the Nation. I am grateful to both of you for the cooperation you have given me as President of the United States.
- And I am grateful to you, the workers, from the members of the Commission itself and the engineers, all the way down the ladder – I am grateful to you workers, skilled and unskilled, here at the site and those workers in the mills and shops many miles distant, without whose strong arms, willing hands and clear heads there would be no celebration here today.
- May the Triborough Bridge, in the years to come, justify our efforts and our hopes by serving truly the city, the State and the Nation!
Source: New Deal Network – http://newdeal.feri.org/index.htm