As some readers may remember, I closely followed the installation of the new Willis Avenue Bridge in late 2010. The sight of the two bridges next to each other was striking, but I also had a meaningful connection to the spot as I had been driving over the older of the bridges ever since I’ve lived in New York – probably first in a college van to a field trip and then so many times in my own car.
I was a bit sad to see the old span go, and certainly disappointed to hear it was to be sold for scrap rather than preserved. If only I had a barge and a big plot of land I could have stored the bridge on I wouldn’t have hesitated bought it for the dollar the city was offering it up for.
But I suppose such is the life cycle of infrastructure. The new bridge span is a big improvement, and further work continues on it. Presently, the approaches to the pedestrian walkway on the Manhattan and Bronx sides of the bridge are being constructed and appear nearly done. As a motorist though, I was most excited about the recent opening of the ramp connecting the Willis directly to I-87 north.
During the duration of the construction, traffic bound for I-87 had to stay straight onto Willis Avenue, make a left on East 135th Street and another sharp left onto the ramp to I-87. The entrance itself was a dangerous spot with cones; concrete barriers; narrow, unclearly marked lanes; and lots of truck traffic.
While going slowly around the corner from Willis Avenue onto East 135th Street so many times, I’d looked up at the big, beautiful curve of the ramp developing to my left. It was a happy sight when construction progressed to the point that the ramp being built from the highway side connected to that on the bridge side. It wouldn’t be long now, I thought to myself.
And sure enough, one day in January I noticed the ramp was finally open! A construction sign flashed “NEW TRAFFIC PATTERN”, and I merged left and onto the luxuriously wide, unmarred, concrete curve. It was a joy to drive, and I was proud to see this next phase complete.
(Apologies for the quality of this hastily-taken video.)
I now look forward much more to the drive home to the Bronx from Manhattan’s east side. How far this modest crossing has come from the years of grated roadway covered with temporary-turned-permanent metal plates, potholes, and detours. The Willis crossing has matured into something functional and modern, though I can never forget the old metal bridge scrapped in sacrifice.