Longest US suspension bridge celebrated New York-style

NEW YORK - New York City's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was celebrated on Friday as an engineering marvel on the 50th anniversary of its opening, but a proposed toll increase for the longest suspension bridge in the United States put a damper on the birthday party.

When traffic began crossing the Brooklyn-to-Staten Island span in 1964, it was the first time that all five New York City boroughs could be reached without traveling on water. The milestone was particularly important for the development of Staten Island, once a mostly rural borough whose residents long relied on ferry service to Manhattan to reach the rest of the city.

"Fifty years after it opened, the longest vehicular suspension bridge in the United States remains an incredible achievement of engineering and architecture," said Thomas Prendergast, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that operates the 13,700-foot-long (4,175-meter-long) bridge.

Several hundred invited guests attended an event to celebrate the bridge at the National Park Service's Fort Wadsworth on the Staten Island end of the span, which crosses the mouth of upper New York Bay.

Absent from the festivities was Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, whose borough may have benefited the most from its construction.

Oddo boycotted the proceedings to protest plans to raise the round-trip toll for a two-axle vehicle by a dollar to $16. That compares with a toll of 50 cents when the bridge opened.

"I just don't think I can stand there and celebrate any aspect of this institution and keep a straight face," said Oddo, who described the proposed increase as excessive and an unfair financial burden on average New Yorkers.

The MTA has said the rate hike was needed to balance its budget against the rising costs of other public transportation service, including buses and subways.

With the top of its 693-foot (211-meter) towers visible from around the city in the day, and thousands of lights strung along its cable wires glittering at night, the Verrazano is one of the city's most prominent of its many bridges.

The bridge was named after Giovanni da Verrazzano, believed to have been the first European to sail into New York Harbor in 1524. It has a total length of 13,700 feet with a central span running 4,260 feet (1,300 meters).

The MTA spells the name with a single "z" instead of the two, as the explorer's name is typically rendered.

Judie Glave, a spokeswoman for the agency, said historical documents show the name spelled both ways, and the MTA chose the shorter version after building the bridge.

Spelling aside, the bridge has become a major link in the area's interstate highway system, providing the shortest route between the middle Atlantic states and Long Island. It also serves as the starting point for the New York City Marathon.