Go high atop the George Washington Bridge as it's restored

For a lot of us, a morning trek across the George Washington Bridge isn’t exactly an exciting day.

But this isn’t a typical daily grind.

FOX 5 was given rare access to the GWB, joined by the team at the Port Authority that oversees it, for a one-of-a-kind look at the “Restoring the George” project. It’s a roughly $2 billion, ten-year program consisting of eleven major projects. The goal is to rehabilitate essentially the entire structure.

The Port Authority says they’re making extra efforts to make sure you don’t notice it.

“The engineering challenge is to mitigate interference with the traveling public,” says GWB General Manager Ken Sagrestano. “It's like performing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner while he's in the middle of the marathon.”

The cornerstone project of Restoring the George is replacing all 592 suspender ropes. They’re the vertical cables attached to the two horizontal barrels that span the bridge. The suspender ropes – which are still the originals from when the bridge was built – hold up the roadway.

Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton says Restoring the George is at the top of PANYNJ’s agenda.

“This bridge was built 89 years ago. So keeping it operational and looking forward to the next 100 years – this is a major project.”

Two elevator rides, a walk through the horseshoe room, a couple of ladders and a small hatch later, and we’ve summited the GWB.

We’re standing 600 feet above the water and 200 above the roadway on a crystal clear day with crystal clear views in every direction.

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Atop what amounts to a 60 story building in the middle of the Hudson, you get a sense of the size and scope of both the bridge itself and the massive construction project they’re undertaking.

Cotton calls it “extraordinary,” and “an iconic piece of transportation infrastructure on which the entire region depends.

And with the bridge’s iconic states, comes the question of security,

Cotton, not giving specific details, but telling us, “Both using technology, looking at hardening every aspect of the bridge where it’s necessary, security cameras, and much other technology which is designed to identify bad actors trying to do bad things have been installed both in the past and as part of the Restore the George.”

Next year the GWB will celebrate its 90th birthday. When it opened in 1931 it was a modern engineering marvel - twice as long as any previous suspension bridge of the time. Then-New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt was on the hand for the opening.

“The engineering challenge is to mitigate interference with the traveling public,” says GWB General Manager Ken Sagrestano. “It's like performing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner while he's in the middle of the marathon.”

And even on the first day, the bridge was busy. During its first full year, 5.5 million vehicles cross the bridge. In 2019, that number was nearly 104 million.

The fare at the time: .50 cents in each direction.

“The tolls are a big part, but they’re not a majority part in terms of what supports the bridge. The fact is the Port Authority makes every effort not to raise fares and tolls. Two-thirds of the revenue that the Port Authority gets and two-thirds of what supports the bridge comes from our commercial customers.”

Sadly, Restoring the George won’t restore those .50 cent fares.

However, at the end of all of this, the Port Authority says drivers, walkers and bikers will get peace of mind and better access.