FreightWaves Classics is sponsored by Sutton Transport, a Midwest LTL leader for over 40 years. Sutton Transport proudly serves the states of Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Ask for a price here.

About 25,000 people attended the grand opening of the Mid-Hudson Bridge in southeast New York on August 25, 1930, 92 years ago today.

The bridge, which is nearly 3,000 feet long, carries traffic across the Hudson River between the city of Poughkeepsie and the town of Highland. When it was built, it was the sixth longest suspension bridge in the world.


New York Governor Al Smith.  (Photo: The University of Chicago Press)
New York Governor Al Smith.
(Photo: The University of Chicago Press)

State legislators J. Griswold Webb and John M. Hackett proposed construction of the Mid-Hudson Bridge during the 1923 session of the New York State Legislature. At the time, there was no fixed crossing of the Hudson River south of Albany that was open to automobile traffic, although two other automobile crossings, the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Holland Tunnel, were under construction.

Poughkeepsie citizens and the Hudson Valley Bridge Association lobbied members of the Legislature to build the bridge. The association consisted of a wide range of local leaders, from businessmen to community groups and district clergy.

The Legislature passed a bill to create a bridge; Governor Alfred E. Smith signed a law in 1923 that provided $200,000 (about $3.5 million today) for “surveys, specifications, and other preparatory work.”

Construction continued during the winter months.  (Photo:
Construction continued during the winter months. (Photo:

The design of the bridge was entrusted to the firm of Majeski and Moran. Ralph Majeski was “one of America’s most famous bridge designers of the 20th century.” He was familiar with the area because in 1907 he supervised the project to strengthen the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, a huge truss span that was the best design at the time of its opening in 1888.

Majeski used a Gothic design for the Mid-Hudson Bridge, which represented the latest in long-span suspension bridge design. The bridge was praised then and until now. In his 1974 book Bridges, Daniel Plowden described the Mid-Hudson Bridge as “splendidly beautiful … the span is one of the finest American suspension bridges.”

Majeski was also an engineer on the Mid-Hudson Bridge project; the bridge was built by the American Bridge Company of New York.

A bridge under construction.  (Photo:
A bridge under construction. (Photo:

Bridge construction

The first test borings were made in May 1925, and the bridge’s cornerstone was laid on October 9, 1925. The river abutments of the bridge were “built on 200,000-pound caissons” (these are large watertight chambers open from the bottom; watertight due to atmospheric pressure and construction work can be carried out under water). Concrete caissons have an inverted U-shape; the caissons for the Mid-Hudson Bridge were installed in the channel of the Hudson River with the open end straight down. Each caisson was equal in volume to a 12-story building and weighed 66,000 tons. The earth under the caissons was dug up when the load was placed on the caissons. They were pushed into the river bed until they came upon solid rock. The caissons were then sealed from below so that workers could climb into them and complete the construction of the pier.

In this painstaking process, workers climbed into the sealed cavity of the caisson and slowly removed the soil with picks and shovels. Dirt and people left the caisson through a sluice that ran from the top of the caisson to the working chamber.

However, on July 27, 1927, a severe tilt occurred in the eastern caisson; construction stopped for a year. The caisson was then at a depth of 84 feet and the structure was slowly moving (18 inches per day). Using pulleys and dredging, workers were able to move the caisson vertically, but the process took two years.

Construction of the bridge superstructure by the American Bridge Company began in April 1929. After the caissons were firmly in place, 315-foot-tall steel towers were erected, spaced 1,500 feet apart (the distance of the main suspension span). The open surfaces of the two Gothic towers were then clad in granite. After the towers were completed, work began on winding the two 16½-inch diameter main cables (each consisting of 6,080 wires) and suspending the cables. Once the cables were in place, the truss-reinforced bridge deck was constructed. The extension was completed in 16 months.

Construction of the bridge superstructure and deck.  (Photo:
Construction of the bridge superstructure and deck. (Photo:

Grand opening

When completed, the Mid-Hudson Bridge connected Highland in Ulster County on the west bank of the Hudson and Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County on the east bank of the river. Opening Day celebrations for the bridge were led by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, former Governor and Mrs. Smith and Mayor Lovelace of Poughkeepsie.

Invitation to the grand opening of the bridge in 1930 (Image:
Invitation to the grand opening of the bridge in 1930 (Image:

The celebration included a parade, an official dedication ceremony at Union Square in Poughkeepsie, a clambake, music, dancing and fireworks. Official opening ceremonies for the bridge began on the Poughkeepsie side. Smith, now a former governor, addressed the audience. Roosevelt, a sitting governor (and future president), also addressed the crowd. After their addresses, Smith’s wife, Catherine, cut the ribbon on the other side of the bridge.

Eleanor Roosevelt cuts the ribbon on the west side of the bridge with Ralph Majeski and Daniel Moran.  (Photo:
Eleanor Roosevelt cuts the ribbon on the west side of the bridge with Ralph Majeski and Daniel Moran.

The dignitaries then moved to the Highland side of the bridge, where Smith and Roosevelt repeated their remarks to the crowd. Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, cut the ribbon on that side of the river.

The bridge was then opened to pedestrians for an hour before vehicles began to cross it. On that first day, an estimated 12,000 cars and 30,000 pedestrians took advantage of the free Mid-Hudson Bridge.

When the bridge opened to traffic, it had one lane in each direction, as well as a pedestrian and bicycle path. Originally, tolls on the bridge were 80 cents for cars and 10 cents for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In 1933, the newly formed New York State Bridge Authority, or NYSBA, purchased the bridge from the New York State Department of Public Works.

Looking at one end of the bridge.  (Photo:
Looking at one end of the bridge. (Photo:

Modernization and improvement of the bridge

After World War II, the number of motorists on US roads and highways increased significantly. Thus, the Mid-Hudson Bridge and the approaches to it have been modified several times. The first project took place in 1949; the eastern approach at Poughkeepsie was widened from two to three lanes and a third toll booth was added to help the flow of motorists through the toll plaza.

Cars and trucks line up to cross the bridge in Poughkeepsie.  (Photo:
Cars and trucks line up to cross the bridge in Poughkeepsie. (Photo:

In 1960, the City of Poughkeepsie received assistance from the NYSBA when it purchased land for what would become the Main Street. The purpose of the roadway, which opened in September 1966, was to help traffic flow more smoothly between the bridge and Poughkeepsie.

In 1965, the state legislature authorized a $1.5 million loan to the NYSBA for the construction of a new highway access and toll plaza on the west side of the bridge. A new toll booth was opened in December 1967 and was equipped with electromechanical toll collection equipment.

The Mid-Hudson Bridge spans US Route 44 and New York State Route 55 over the Hudson River. In the summer of 1983, the two-lane roadway on the bridge was widened to three lanes. Most often, one lane in each direction is open to traffic, and the center lane is closed. During peak hours, the traffic flow is dominated by the central lane.

Cars pass through the toll booth.  (Photo:
Cars pass through the toll booth. (Photo:

Beginning in 1987, the accumulated wear and tear on the bridge’s roadway led the NYSBA to approve an extensive two-year deck replacement project. Most of the work on the bridge was done at night; one lane of traffic was open and alternating directions to minimize disruption to traffic.

To facilitate work under the bridge and inspection, four “travellers” (large mobile platforms) were installed under the bridge deck beams. The platforms pass between the mounts, towers and midspan and when in use travel at approximately two miles per hour for maintenance, repair and superstructure inspection.

At midnight on March 31, 1999, the Mid-Hudson Bridge switched to the E-ZPass toll collection system. The system helped eliminate morning rush hour delays of 12 to 18 minutes.

A scenic walkway across the Mid-Hudson Bridge was dedicated later that year (October 24, 1999). A sidewalk ramp on the eastern approach to the bridge allows pedestrians, bicyclists and the disabled to access the bridge from a local street in Poughkeepsie, eliminating the need to cross the ramp from Route 9.

Picture for the 50th anniversary.  (Image:
Picture for the 50th anniversary. (Image:

In 2000, a steel painting and repair project was started. This included lead paint removal, maintenance, painting and repair of the metal structures under the bridge roadway. In addition, other projects were completed in 2000, including anchorage drainage, access road repairs, and footing repairs.

In the summer of 2001, punitive lighting was installed on the bridge. Baker Engineering has developed a system that uses energy-efficient LED lights. Over 16.7 million colors and color changing effects can be created. Custom light shows are created on a computer running special software.

Local composer and percussionist Joseph Bertalozzi used a variety of hammers to reproduce and record sounds on the steel of the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie.  (Photo: Spencer Ainslie/
Local composer and percussionist Joseph Bertalozzi used a variety of hammers to reproduce and record sounds on the steel of the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie.
(Photo: Spencer Ainslie/

During the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain quadricentennial in 2009, Joseph Bertalozzi created the public sound art installation Bridge Music. Sounds recorded on the Mid-Hudson Bridge are used to create the composition. Those using the bridge’s walkway can stop at the listening stations from April to October.

Also in 2009, the nearby Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was reopened. However, it is now the longest pedestrian bridge in the world and has been renamed the Walkway across the Hudson State Historic Park. The two bridges consist of a “Walkway Loop Trail” that allows pedestrians to follow the two beautiful historic bridges.

Former Railroad Bridge and Mid-Hudson Bridge in winter.  (Photo:
Former Railroad Bridge and Mid-Hudson Bridge in winter. (Photo:


The Mid-Hudson Bridge was designated a New York State Historic Building in 1983 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. As noted above, designs were undertaken to ensure the integrity of the bridge for decades to come.

In 1994, the New York State Legislature passed a resolution renaming the bridge the Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge in honor of the former governor and president. The bridge was completed during his term, and he was also instrumental in establishing the NYSBA.

FreightWaves Classics thanks the New York State Bridge Authority, Historic Hudson Valley Bridges,, Modjeski and Masters and others for the information and photos that helped make this article possible.

Lights on the bridge.  (Photo:
Lights on the bridge. (Photo:

Previous articleSuper73 electric motorbike with 75 mile range $500 off
Next articleLa Vuelta a Espana 2022 stage 7: preview and predictions