Bridge span openings

I first heard on a tip from friend on Twitter that the RFK Triboro Bridge Harlem River lift span was to have a scheduled opening. This was supposed to happen Monday, but checking the MTA’s site that day revealed one of the openings was postponed until Tuesday. So I wrote my boss a timid email asking to be excused to go watch that afternoon. I have the best boss; not only did he agree to this, but he showed no signs of thinking I was weird for wanting to go see such a thing!

I’d looked at maps, planned in advance, and decided that Randall’s Island would be the best vantage point. After a busy morning at work I headed down. I ran into some traffic on I-87, which should be no surprise to me at this point. I E-ZPassed my way through the toll and took the ramp down to the island. Although I thought I knew what I was doing, I still wasn’t clear on where that ramp would drop me off exactly, partly because I hadn’t driven this specific route before and partly because the location of the ramp had recently been changed. You used to follow signs to Manhattan, not Queens, to get to Randall’s Island.

After descending the ramp my natural sense of direction kicked in as I began to follow the island’s curved roads. I knew I had to go north and west from where I was, and time was short. It was 2:53 and the bridge opening was scheduled for between 3 and 4. Through a clearing I caught a glimpse of the span and panicked – it was already up! Oh no, I thought, I’ve missed it. I stepped on the gas, hoping I remembered the maps I looked at (no time for smartphone GPS) and that I could find parking. After almost making a wrong turn and getting back on the bridge I made a probably-illegal u-turn and barreled into a gravel clearing that looked like it was sometimes used for parking. Good thing the island was relatively deserted this time, otherwise I may not have been able to pull that off!

I quickly recognized where I was, it was the rock perch from my Willis Avenue Bridges excursion. This was somewhat planned – I knew this spot had the view I wanted. I snatched up my camera, slammed the car door shut, and boldly walked toward the mass of bushes. In the back of my mind I hoped I was allowed to park here and that no one would bother me for taking pictures of the bridge. But those worries couldn’t stop me from my mission. I saw the bridge through the clearing and it was almost all the way back down. I captured what I could of this tail end of the closing.

RFK Bridge closing

RFK Bridge almost closed

The bridge was now all the way closed, but I wasn’t ready to depart yet. The view before me was so beautiful and I’d only been there for a few minutes. Maybe, I thought, I’d just wait until cars started going across the bridge again and then I’d leave. Though I was disappointed about missing the opening, I refused to regret making the trip.

While waiting and watching I noticed what had to be the reason for the bridge opening: a smallish barge which had what looked like three utility poles sticking up vertically from it. I wondered why they hadn’t laid the poles down instead, perhaps on a longer barge. But who am I to complain when it meant a bridge span opening!

Tall boat and bridge ramps

As I enjoyed the scenery and roasted in the hot sun, I heard a few long horn blasts. I knew something was happening, but what? I looked north (to my right) and saw that the Willis Avenue Bridge had started to budge. My midday excursion had been validated, and by the opening of a bridge I loved perhaps even more than the Triboro/RFK no less! Certainly I had a more personal connection with the Willis – it has carried me home to the Bronx (or, longer ago, Westchester) from Manhattan’s east side for so many years. I’d visited it in more detail and blogged about it several times too. I was ready now and absorbed every moment as the bridge slowly, steadily, and gracefully swung open.

Willis Avenue Bridge opening

Willis Avenue Bridge open

Willis Avenue Bridge open

The barge didn’t even wait for the bridge to be all the way open to go through the channel on its west side. The awkward, goofy-looking boat’s movement seemed so unceremonious next to the grand, steel bridge spans in motion.

Cars continued to build up and look impatient on the Manhattan side as the Willis stood open for a few minutes. Then the horns sounded again and it was closing time.

I tried to hold my camera steady as I observed the closing. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a snout among the boulders I was sitting on. I wasn’t sure if this cute little guy was a groundhog or maybe even a beaver since I only saw his face, not the rest of his body. It was as if he’d peeked out to see the bridge openings too. I was taking the video above at the time, and he disappeared back into the rock crevice afterwards before I could get his picture.

Willis Avenue Bridge closed

With the Willis closed, I turned my attention back to the RFK span. I saw traffic begin to trickle back across it in both directions.

RFK Bridge awaiting traffic

RFK Bridge reopened to traffic

After what must have seemed like a few very long minutes (and accompanied by some impatient horn honking), cars began to make their way over the Willis again too. All was pretty much back to normal, as if these great steel monsters had never yielded to the funny looking boat.

I tried to find my mammalian friend again to get a picture of him. I climbed down the rocks and onto the grimy sand, looking into any openings. While I heard rustling in the brush above the boulders, I saw nothing.

The shore

I climbed back up the boulders on my way to the car. I did notice another friendly creature on my way, though: a praying mantis keeping watch from atop a broken-off bush trunk. I wondered if it, too, had been watching the bridge openings from this appropriate vantage point.

Praying mantis

I smiled to myself and finished my climb and trudge through the brush to the car. I looked out over what I could see of Randall’s Island from here. Too bad I had to go now, but I vowed to come back here soon and explore more.

Randall’s Island

Looking at my smartphone’s GPS, I saw traffic awaited me on the return drive. Gathering my patience and remembering I wasn’t sorry to have come, I set off back to work. I thought how funny it was that I’d been gone for a chunk of hours – my coworkers probably thought I was in meetings, but I was somewhere much more strange and special instead!

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2 Responses to Bridge span openings

  1. Capt. Mike says:

    Hi Emily,

    I’m enjoying your posts. A quick note: the barge with the “utility poles” is actually called a spud barge. The poles are the “spuds.”

    The spuds extend down through tubes into the water. The barge is placed in position and the spuds are lowered into the mud or dirt below the water. They then hold the barge in place, and it is able to rise and drop with the tide. Very useful as a work platform, for example.

    Hope the info is useful!

    Capt. Mike

    • Emily says:

      Hi Mike! I appreciate your reply – it certainly solves the mystery about those “poles”. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

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