Opened to the Public: Feb. 2, 1957
Connecting Counties: Ulster and Dutchess
Overall Length: 7,793 feet
Bridge Type: Continuous Under-Deck Truss
Initial Cost: $17,500,000
Senator Arthur Wicks of Ulster County and Senator Ernest Hatfield of Dutchess County joined forces in January of 1944 to sponsor legislation authorizing $50,000 for a survey of the area to address the need for a bridge crossing near Kingston. The bill was passed by both the Senate and the Assembly but vetoed by Governor Thomas Dewey pending proof that a bridge was truly necessary.
In 1946 the New York State Legislature charged the Bridge Authority with the operation of the Kingston-Rhinecliff ferry. The ferry’s private owners had discontinued service in December 1942 due to decreased traffic caused by WWII gas rations. NYSBA purchased the necessary equipment and facilities for $240,000 and began operating the ferry in May 1946.
Finally, in 1947, Governor Dewey signed the Wicks-Hatfield Act authorizing NSYBA to investigate the need for a bridge and to construct one upon confirmation of that need by the State Superintendent of Public Works. In July of 1949, Superintendent Bertram D. Tallamy declared the necessity for a bridge, thereby giving the go-ahead to begin planning.
The project officially began in January of 1954. Just prior to completion, in February 1957, the bridge was opened as a convenience to industrial workers who walked across the span after the river froze and the ferry was unable to run.
At noon on February 2, the ceremonial ribbon on the west shore was cut by Nancy Heppner, daughter of NYSBA member Ernest Heppner. Governor Harriman, the principal speaker at the informal opening then stepped into the lead car of the ceremonial 2-mile caravan. More than 500 spectators watched the ceremony and many more waited in long lines along the approaches to cross the new bridge for free before tolls began to be collected at 4 PM.
At the time, temporary frame toll booths were used to collect fares as the permanent booths would not be built until spring. Neither the garage nor the administration building was finished. On half of the bridge itself, huge timbers were set up as makeshift curbs until it was warm enough to pour cement for curbs and walkways.
On May 11, 1957 formal dedication ceremonies for the completed Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge took place. The celebration again included speeches by Governor Harriman and another motorcade across the span. The first 200 vehicles to cross the bridge were awarded commemorative certificates, which entitled the bearer to one free crossing over the bridge within the first 30 days after the bridge opened.
In 2000, the bridge was ceremonially renamed the George Clinton Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge in honor of the Hudson Native. Clinton served as the longest serving Governor of New York State (1777-1795, 1801-1804) and as Vice-President of the United States under both President’s Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007 as the bridge received new decking, deck reinforcement and continuous improvements for safety and reliability.
The project faced several obstacles from the beginning. The initial cost was estimated to be $6,000,000 more than NYSBA had been allotted to finance. In 1951, the Authority’s bonded debt limit was increased to $30,000,000 by the Legislature, providing sufficient funding to begin construction.
The proposed site for construction had its own problems. Originally planned to be built between Kingston Point and downtown Rhinebeck, the site was moved 3 miles north due to political and economic factors. The structure itself was supposed to be a suspension bridge similar to the Mid-Hudson Bridge but suspension bridges require very stable bedrock on each shore to anchor the main cables. When the location of the bridge changed, the plans had to be modified accordingly. Instead, a continuous under-deck truss design was chosen.
Work at the site began in July 1954 with the grading of the approach ramps. While under construction, debate began over what to name the bridge. Suggestions included naming it for President Martin Van Buren, George Clinton, the Livingston Family or the “Veteran’s Memorial” Bridge. NYSBA finally decided to identify the bridge with its geographic location: the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.
The first river piers were placed on the Kingston side of the river in August 1956. Concrete bases for support were poured 2-3 weeks later. Half the piers for the new bridge were completed by the following year. The pier foundations were built using cofferdams. Huge sheets of steel were driven into the riverbed to form a pen that extended above water level and then a hose was dropped into the pen to pour a concrete base beneath the river. Water was pumped out of the now-sealed pen and workers were able to go down to the concrete floor and begin constructing the pier.
The project was scheduled to be completed by November of 1956 but delays caused the dedication to be pushed back several months. In February 1957 the bridge was informally opened, with the formal dedication ceremonies taking place on May 11, 1957.