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July 2, 2010

Rip Van Winkle Bridge Celebrates 75 Years

Catskill, NY – Seventy-five years ago, Frances Lasher McLean walked across the Hudson River on the newly opened Rip Van Winkle Bridge.  Today, she shared a few stories and cut a cake celebrating three-quarters of a century of history.

          Mrs. McLean joined guests of the state Bridge Authority in commemorating the anniversary of the iconic structure at a scenic overlook behind the bridge office in Catskill.

          “I remember my father telling me it was an important day,” McLean said. “It was a long walk for a nine-year old and I thought it would never end.”

          Today the Rip Van Winkle Bridge carries more than five million vehicles a year and is a vital link between Columbia and Greene counties.

          “Today we commemorate the seventy-five year life of a bridge,” said Bridge Authority Executive Director Joseph Ruggiero.  “But what we really celebrate is the history and heritage of the Hudson Valley and the communities and people structures like the Rip Van Winkle Bridge bring together.”

          The New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA) was born out of the necessity for a bridge over the Hudson River which would link the city of Hudson and the village of Catskill.

          On March 31, 1932, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law a bill sponsored by Greene County Assemblyman Ellis Bentley that created the Bridge Authority as an entity that would issue toll revenue bonds to pay for what would become the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

          As a result of the Great Depression, New York State could not finance the bridge’s construction alone so NYSBA was established to manage construction of the project.  Public bonds were purchased by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which the Authority had to pay back with toll money.

          While the bridge cost approximately $2.5 million in 1935, it would cost more than $150 million to build today.

          The toll for a car and family of four to cross the bridge in 1935 was $1.20 – each way.  The current standard toll of $1, charged only for east-bound traffic, is among the lowest in the nation.  The Bridge Authority also no longer allows pigs and mules to cross the bridge on their own and long ago dispenses with the $.10 fee for pedestrians.

          NYSBA bridges, like the Rip Van Winkle, have been called “among the best maintained in the nation” by independent inspectors. 

          The Bridge Authority has been self-sufficient throughout its more than seventy-five year history, operating without Federal or State tax monies and reinvesting toll revenues to continue to maintain and improve the five vital Hudson River Crossings it now owns.

Rip Van Winkle 75th Ribbon Cutting

Rip Van Winkle Bridge 75th Cake Cutting

Quick Facts about the New York State Bridge Authority

  • The NYS Bridge Authority operates the Bear Mountain, Newburgh-Beacon, Mid-Hudson, Kingston-Rhinecliff and Rip Van Winkle bridges.            
  • The Authority holds the highest bond rating given any public toll-transportation entity in the United States, reducing bond and annual costs.
  • The $1 passenger vehicle toll for east-bound passage on all Authority bridges is among the lowest nationwide for self-supporting transportation agencies (there is no toll for west-bound passage).
  • Tolls today are actually lower, in real dollars, than they were in 1933 when the Authority began operations.