Ballpark Estimate: $15 Million in 1883; $320 Million in 2007 dollars
As the population grew in New York City during the 1830s there was always loose talk of relieving the overcrowded conditions there by building a bridge across the East River to Brooklyn. Building the bridge, the proponents argued, would reduce the congestion in New York City by providing an easy and quicker way for people and goods to move across the river to Brooklyn. At the same time, they added, this influx of people and material would create a greater impetus for further development of Brooklyn. But talk was cheap and nothing was ever done.
Big Design Dreams
In 1855, however, John A. Roebling, a German born civil engineer who had built the Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati among many others, had grown tired of the endless talk and decided to go one step further. He drew up the design of an enormous suspension bridge which he proposed building across the East River. The proposal for this bridge or for that matter any bridge across the East Rive was met with obvious indifference by the New York authorities but Roebling remained undeterred. Over the next several years Roebling continued to pursue his idea by exploiting his influential government connections. Finally, in 1867, a bill was pushed through the New York legislature that permitted a private company to construct a bridge to Brooklyn.
Two years later Roebling’s design was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and the bill for its construction was signed by President Ulysses S. Grant. While surveying a site on the Brooklyn side, however, his foot was crushed against a pier by an arriving ferry and twenty-four days afterward he died from complications resulting from this injury. Taking up the gauntlet was his son, Washington who now assumed the role of Chief Engineer of the bridge-building project at an annual salary of $8,000.
Work on constructing the caissons began on January 3, 1870 and took three years to complete. The immigrant laborers working for $2.25 a day Cost To Build The Brooklyn Bridgein the 3,000 ton caissons were subjected to conditions unimaginable in today’s work environment. Practically living in the dank and dimly lit subterranean foundations each day and breathing compressed air for hours eventually took its toll on the workforce. An estimated 20 to 30 men died from fires, explosions, or the bends. Even Washington Roebling himself was stricken with the bends from one of his ventures into the caisson in 1872. So severe was his illness that he was unable to return to the worksite but relied on his wife to act as his agent in overseeing the project. In fact, fearing that even more workers in the caisson on the New York side of the river would be subjected to the bends, Roebling ordered a halt to the construction 30 feet short of the bedrock. Since then, the Manhattan-side tower still sits on sand alone.
From 1873 to 1877 work was carried out on the anchorages and the 276-foot neo-Gothic limestone and granite towers. Then, beginning in February 1877, the four massive steel main cables, each capable of holding 11,200 tons were connected to the anchorages on both sides of the river. These were the 15” diameter cables that would hang from the stone towers and hold up the roadway of the bridge. The following year the vertical cables called “suspenders” were hung from the main cables to the temporary roadway below.
Beginning in 1879 and over the following four years, work continued on completing the permanent roadway stretching out 135 feet above the water. The unique feature about this bridge was that the elder Roebling designed it with an elevated walkway running down the center of the bridge for pedestrians and bicycles. On either side and partly below this walkway were railroad tracks that connected directly to the elevated railroad systems in New York and Brooklyn. And next to each track toward the outside edge of the bridge were two lanes each side for carriages and horseback riders.
Big Opening Day
Finally, on May 23, 1883, before an enormous crowd of 14,000 invited guests, President Chester Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland Cost To Build The Brooklyn Bridgeofficially dedicated the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, as it was originally called until 1915. The first person to ride across this spectacular bridge was Roebling’s wife Emily who had been instrumental in helping her husband direct the day to day operations. The following day was the official opening. At 9 a.m. the barricades were taken down and replaced by a line of policemen. At noon, businesses in Brooklyn and New York closed and the bells throughout the area began to toll. The bridge was officially opened to the public at two in the afternoon with fireworks from 8 to 9 p.m.
- $15 Million (including $4 Million for the land) in 1883 dollars
- $320 million in 2007 dollars
Maintenance Costs & Design Changes Over the Years
Over the following years, as needs and technologies changed, so did the design of the bridge. When the railroad stopped running in 1944, the trolleys moved onto the tracks until around 1950. At that time the tracks were removed and a six-lane highway and connecting ramps was installed, three lanes in each direction that today accommodates about 150,000 vehicles each and every day. Commercial vehicles and buses, however, are not allowed on the bridge. The separate walkway for pedestrians and bicycles was rebuilt and still runs along the centerline of the bridge. In 1999 a re-decking of the roadway was completed at a cost of $34 Million as well as retrofitting current steel trusses to enhance the original capability of the span. Currently, there is a plan to spend $725 Million for rebuilding the ramps and to repaint the bridge. Work is scheduled to begin around 2009 and should be completed by 2011.