18 DECEMBER 31, 2020 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
Feeling ‘Grand’ on the Newtown Creek
BY THE OLD TIMER
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
We conclude our three-part
series on The Bridges of
Newtown Creek with a
look at the oldest span crossing the
murky waterway standing between
Brooklyn and northeast Queens.
Theodore Roosevelt was amid his
second full year in offi ce as president
of the United States in February 1903
when the Grand Street Bridge opened
to the public. The little green, steel
swing span remains in operation
all these years later as a big, if not
somewhat unreliable, link between
Brooklyn and Maspeth.
The span connects Grand Street
in Brooklyn with Grand Avenue
in Queens, and is located within a
heavy industrial hub on both sides
of the creek.
The current bridge is the third version
of a crossing at the location. The
fi rst Grand Street Bridge opened in
1875, but quickly fell into disrepair. It
was replaced in 1890, but eight years
later, the U.S. War Department declared
it was too obstructive to naval
ships passing through the area.
So in 1903, fi ve years aft er Brooklyn
and Queens became a part of the
Greater City of New York, the current
Grand Street Bridge opened, having
been constructed at a cost of about
$200,000 at the time.
Unlike a conventional drawbridge,
the entire steel span of the bridge
swings open when a boat or barge
needs to pass. The span is centered
upon a large concrete/steel structure
built in the middle of the creek which
allows it to make the turn when
These days, not many vessels
navigate the area of the creek near
the Grand Street Bridge, so it oft en
remains in its fi xed position. In fact,
a ship has not passed through the
bridge since Hurricane Sandy in 2012,
when the storm surge damaged the
bridge’s mechanical and electrical
In recent years, the span has become
problematic due to wear-andtear
as well as its size.
The bridge has just two lanes for
traffi c, one in each direction, and the
roadway width is only about 20 feet.
That makes it almost impossible for
large 18-wheelers, which oft en travel
through the area, to simultaneously
pass each other on the bridge — and
the span was never built to accommodate
that kind of traffi c regularly.
For decades, Community Board
5 in Queens has sought to have the
Grand Street Bridge rebuilt with a
The Queens approach to the Grand Street Bridge, as it appeared on Sept. 17, 1903.
NYC Municipal Archives/reprinted with permission
structure that meets 21st-century
traffi c needs. In September 2019, the
city’s Department of Transportation
began surveying the area as part of
the design process, which likely won’t
be completed until at least next year.
It fi gures that it will take many more
years for the bridge to be replaced.
In the meantime, the DOT continues
to perform regular maintenance
on the bridge, requiring (at times)
extensive closures on weekends.
About 665 feet north of the Grand
Street Bridge sits the point where the
Newtown Creek meets the English
Kills, a nearly mile-long (and similarly
polluted) tributary that snakes
its way through industrial areas of
East Williamsburg and Bushwick,
Just one small bridge spans the
English Kills: the Metropolitan Avenue
Bridge, a drawbridge that connects
Grand Street and Metropolitan
The current drawbridge was fi rst
constructed in 1931, but a crossing
has been at the location since the
middle of the 19th century as part of
the Jamaica-Williamsburgh Turnpike.
In those days, the roadway
had been an important connection
between farmers on Long Island and
the bustling markets of Brooklyn and
In 1872, the city of Brooklyn
acquired the turnpike and renamed
it Metropolitan Avenue. In doing so,
they also replaced the fi rst bridge
with a swing span similar to that of
the existing Grand Street Bridge.
The existing Metropolitan Avenue
drawbridge opened in 1931 and has
been frequently repaired and modernized
in the years since. Yet it’s also
been prone to mechanical failures;
during a 2019 heatwave, the span had
to be shut most of the day because it
failed to fully close following an
opening due to heat-warped steel.
Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
Sources: NYC Department of
Transportation, Gothamist, Newtown
* * *
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The Way It Was” that you would like
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