The Hamilton Fish Newburgh-Beacon Bridge carries Interstate 84 and NY Route 52 over the Hudson River between Newburgh and Beacon, New York.
Native Americans regularly crossed the Hudson River between what is now Newburgh and Beacon long before Europeans arrived in America. A formal ferry was established on June 25, 1743, when Alexander Colden received a royal charter from King George II to carry passengers and freight for profit. 5 9 It was the only other ferry to operate in the region other than at Dobbs Ferry which was much further downstream, and notable for being used to lead armies by George Washington and John and Samuel Adams.
The Newburgh-Beacon Ferry was sold by Colden’s heirs in 1802 to Leonard Carpenter, and later to Bogardus, De Wint, and Wiltse families. 9 Operations passed to Thomas Powell in 1835 who then deeded them in 1850 to his daughter, Mrs. Frances E. L. Ramsdell. She operated it until 1956 when it was sold for $250,000 to the New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA). 5 7 9 By that time, it was the last ferry to operate over the Hudson north of New York City.
Construction of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge
In February 1951, New York State Assembly Majority Leader Lee B. Mailler introduced a bill that called for test borings for a proposed bridge to be conducted between Newburgh and Beacon. 5 Significant local support from local Chambers of Commerce as well as various civic groups led to Governor Thomas E. Dewey to sign the bill. Test borings and site surveys were completed by February 1952. It was estimated that a bridge would cost $18 million to construct, not including the costs of acquiring the right of way.
In 1953, Mailler introduced further legislation to authorize bridge construction, and while it was approved, it contained no appropriation. 5 7 Any work was also prohibited by law until after the completion of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. The Mailler-Hatfield Bill was passed by the Legislature in 1954 which removed those constraints.
NYSBA lacked the bonding ability to build both the Kingston-Rhinecliff and Newburgh-Beacon bridges at the same time. 5 A bond issue that passed in 1955 covered not just the construction costs of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, but a $1.2 million development fund to pay for the design and expedite the construction of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. As part of the development of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, federal aid for the proposed bridge was approved, although those funds were redistributed in 1959. At the urging of Governor Rockefeller, NYSBA opted to build a less expensive two-lane bridge without federal assistance.
Also in 1955, NYSBA retained Modjeski & Masters, consulting engineers, to conduct preliminary studies, surveys, and borings for the proposed Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. 7 The firm had prepared the engineering study, cost estimates, and a determination of an exact location and design in 1956. Construction on the crossing began by Frederick Snare, Drave, and Bethlehem Steel 1 on October 22, 1960, 7 and it opened to traffic at the cost of $19.5 million 5 on November 2, 1963. 2 7 Governor Nelson Rockefeller cut the gold ribbon on the bridge during its dedication ceremony. 5 A 50¢ toll was levied on motorists. 10
The last ferries, the Beacon, Dutchess, and Orange, maintained ferry service until 5 PM on November 3 when the Dutchess and Orange met at mid-river and signaled a final salute, ending ferry service between Newburgh and Beacon for the first time in 220 years. 5
Prior to its completion, it was estimated that the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge would carry 25,000 cars each day by the 1970s which would necessitate the construction of a parallel span. But within a year of the bridge’s opening, traffic counts were already exceeding 25,000 cars per day and traffic jams were becoming a daily occurrence. 5 The completion of Interstate 84 in Connecticut and Pennsylvania only exaggerated the issue.
The toll plaza for the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge was widened to six lanes in 1968, and on August 12, 1970, tolls began to be collected only for eastbound motorists. 7
Planning for a second, parallel bridge over the Hudson River began by Modjeski & Masters 6 in 1971. 1 5 7 Also included was the reconstruction of the bridge deck on the original span to allow for a wider roadway. Unlike the original crossing, 90% of the second bridge’s financing was eligible for funding through the federal Interstate Highway Fund with the remainder being financed by the NYSBA. 5
Construction began on the companion span by the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel in early 1975. 6 Unlike the original span which utilized painted steel, the new bridge used U.S. Steel’s COR-TEN weathering steel which would eliminate the need for painting as it developed a stable rust-like appearance after exposure to weather. 8 Featuring three 12-foot travel lanes, a 10-foot right shoulder, and a six-foot left shoulder, it opened to eastbound traffic at the cost of $93.6 million 5 on November 1, 1980. 3 5 The original bridge was restriped for westbound traffic. 3 A pedestrian and bicycle sidewalk opened in 1981. 5
The original circa 1963 span was closed to traffic between December 1980 and June 1984 to allow for the roadway deck to be rehabilitated so that it could accommodate three 12-foot lanes of traffic, and to allow for the superstructure to be painted brown to match the rusted steel appearance of the newer span. 3
In 1997, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge was rededicated in honor of Hamilton Fish who served as New York Governor, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Secretary of State, and for five generations of the Fish family who represented the Hudson Valley in congress, the state legislature, and in the presidential cabinet from the Lincoln administration to the Clinton administration. 1 4 5 In 2005, the Newburgh-Beacon Ferry was revived by a private entity to carry commuters from Newburgh to Beacon so that they could catch the Metro-North Hudson Line to Grand Central Station. 1 5
Between 2012-14, the south span of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge underwent a roadway deck replacement, and in 2018-19, the Interstate 84 overpass over US Route 9W on the bridge’s west approach was rehabilitated and raised by two feet to meet the current interstate highway standards. 1 Beginning in 2020, the roadway deck on the north span of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge is undergoing replacement.
- State: New York
- Route: Interstate 84, NY Route 52
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 7,789 feet (1963); 7,855 feet (1980)
- Main Span Length: 1,000 feet (1963); 1,000 feet (1980)
- Spans: Side span of 602 feet (1963, 1980)
- Roadway Width: 36 feet (1963); 52 feet (1980)
- Navigational Clearance:
- “The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.” New York State Bridge Authority.
- Stengren, Bernard. “Ceremony Opens Newburgh Span; New Bridge is Formally Opened.” The New York Times, 3 Nov. 1963.
- “A New Bridge Is Added to an Old One Between Two Hudson Cities.” The New York Times, 1 Nov. 1980.
- Sack, Kevin. “Political Chasm Is Spanned To Have 2 Bridges Renamed.” The New York Times, 5 Jul. 1994.
- “The “Hamilton Fish” Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.” New York State Bridge Authority.