The $873M Kosciuszko Bridge replacement was completed this past summer – 4 years early and within budget. The striking structure has completely transformed the NYC skyline as viewed from Greenpoint and Maspeth.
The Queens-bound span of the new bridge was dedicated on the warm, humid, overcast afternoon of April 27, 2017. I attended on behalf of the Newtown Historical Society along with Tony Nunziato, a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Committee for 15+ years.
We gathered at the base of the bridge and were handed mini Queens and NY state flags to wave and sashes emblazoned with the word “Queens” to wear. Then we proceeded up the ramp on a bus. About 1/3 of the way over the bridge, we stepped off the coach and fell in line behind the Francis Lewis High School Marching Band, elected officials and VIPs. Simultaneously, the contingent wearing “Brooklyn” sashes approached from the opposite direction. Polish dancers and a band from their borough led the way.
We met at the center of the span at high noon while Governor Andrew Cuomo pulled up from the Queens side in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 Packard.
The electeds then lined up for the ceremonial ribbon cutting. Consul General Maciej Golubiewski attended on behalf of the government of Poland.
After the national anthem was played, a few inevitable jokes about how to properly pronounce the name “Kosciuszko” were made. But striking a serious tone, the speeches of the dignitaries all echoed a theme of unity and honored the endurance of the Polish people. General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, for whom the bridge was named, was hailed as a champion of liberty. The governor put special emphasis on the fact that this was the first new bridge to be built in NYC in more than 5 decades. And of course, the modern marvel we were standing on and those who built it were extolled.
For the finale, the electeds unveiled one of the 2 beautifully restored plaques from the 1940 dedication, which were to be installed on the finished bridge. Attendees were invited to take photos with it before returning to the buses for the ride back. Just before we parted ways, some of the Brooklynites treated us to a spontaneous rendition of the Polish song “Sto Lat.”
The grand public spectacle was kind of personal for me, as my grandparents had taken part in the dedication of the original Kosciuszko Bridge in 1940. I have a photo that my grandmother, Stella Lukowski, who was all of 18 years old at the time, took on the bridge after the ceremony. My grandfather, Henry Wolinski, was there, too, playing the bass drum in a marching band. They would not be married until 1946, after my grandfather returned from serving in WWII. I felt it was appropriate for me to follow in their footsteps by attending this event 77 years later.
Tony and I walked back to Maspeth. In a few short hours, we both returned to the area with our spouses and good friends for the Governor’s reception at Restaurant Depot. It was misting at this point, but that didn’t put a damper on the festivities in the least. We assembled inside a large tent to sample food made from 100% New York farmed ingredients such as wine, beer, cider, pretzels, apples, brisket and cheese. After another round of speeches, the crowd got to witness a 20-minute light show synchronized with music. As a keepsake of the monumental day, attendees were gifted with a piece of the cable from the new bridge, engraved with the date. The new span opened to vehicular traffic the following day.
After almost 8 decades of service, the center span of the bridge was lowered onto two barges on July 25, 2017. The following morning, spectators gathered to watch tugboats work their magic. The old span was rotated, passed under the new span and through the raised Pulaski Bridge channel, and on to the East River. It sailed under the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges then across New York Harbor over to NJ to a recycling plant. The bridge approaches were removed in an impressive series of controlled explosions on October 1, 2017, which happened to be Pulaski Day.
Construction continued, and two years later, the Brooklyn-bound span, featuring dedicated bike and pedestrian lanes, was officially opened on August 28, 2019 amidst similar weather, but with more subdued fanfare. FDR’s Packard made another appearance. The speeches were short and sweet. The evening reception wasn’t as lavish, but the light show included a special performance via satellite from Madison Square Garden by New York musical legend Billy Joel. The mementos distributed this time were miniature replicas of the original bridge plaques.
The classic steel design of the old bridge in the western skyline will forever be ingrained in the memories of generations of Maspeth residents as we embrace progress and the impressive appearance of the modern span. Sto Lat to the new Kosciuszko Bridge!