Home » New York Got So Hot That A Swing Bridge Jammed Open

New York Got So Hot That A Swing Bridge Jammed Open

Bridge Out Nyc Ts2
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The world is changing around us, with global temperatures continuing to trend upwards in recent years. This fact has been suggested as the cause for all manner of calamities, from forest fires to hurricanes. On Monday, though, the heat was apparently to blame for a swing bridge in New York that jammed before it had rotated into position to align with the roadways it spans.

The span in question is New York’s Third Avenue Bridge. It crosses the Harlem River, linking Manhattan with the Bronx. It’s a swing bridge, which rotates about its center point in order to allow larger ships to pass through the river. That’s all well and good when it works.

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When it doesn’t, though, it quickly becomes a story. As covered by CBS News, New York’s high ambient temperature was apparently to blame. When crews attempted to close the bridge around 3 p.m., it became stuck, with the sweltering summer heat blamed for the jam by authorities.

When workers first tried to close the bridge, the swing span would not line up with its locking mechanism. It effectively became jammed in a semi-open position. The New York Department of Transport put the problem down to thermal expansion. With the mercury hitting 95 F at 2 p.m., Monday marked the city’s hottest day of the year so far. The high temperatures are set to continue throughout the week, as New York grapples with an unwelcome heatwave.

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The explanation is a curious one. While it’s true that metal does expand with heat, this is not the first hot day that New York has suffered through. Temperatures have exceeded 100 F in July multiple times from 2010 to 2012, while recent years have seen temperatures as high as 98 F. The city’s all-time record is 106 F, recorded in 1936.

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One worker could be seen using an angle grinder to clearance bridge components so the span could close.
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FDNY ships blasted the span with water in an attempt to cool it down.

The bridge has existed in its current form since October 2004, when a new swing span was installed. It’s likely the bridge has seen quite a few hot days in its almost 20 years of operation hence. However, there’s one big reason why this likely hasn’t occurred before: The bridge typically only opens around four times per year, according to a report from the New York DOT. It may just be that the bridge has never been open and closed on a particularly hot day before.

In any case, the jam was quite the inconvenience. The bridge typically sees over 55,000 vehicles a day. Authorities on the scene worked to free the bridge up as quickly as possible. Notably, a marine firefighting unit from the Fire Department of New York stepped in to help, spraying down the bridge in an attempt to cool it to the point where it could close successfully. Workers were eventually able to close the bridge, which reopened at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Warmer weather could see this happen more often if authorities don’t fix the bridges to suit today’s conditions. Other countries are dealing with similar problems. Extreme temperatures in the UK have seen roads melt and railroad tracks buckle because they simply weren’t designed to deal with hotter temperatures.

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Hot days can be a drag at the best of times. It’s worse when your commute gets longer because a bridge gets stuck. Here’s hoping this is a strange one-off, because New York fire fighters have better things to do than to spray a bridge all day.

Image credits: Jesse Hamilton via Twitter screenshot, Citizen NYC via Twitter Screenshot

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 day ago

“We’re jammin’
I wanna jam it wid you
We’re jammin’, jammin’,
And I hope you like jammin’, too”
-Bob Marley (RIP)

Last edited 1 day ago by Freelivin2713
Electrified05ViggenFeverDream
Electrified05ViggenFeverDream
2 days ago

Funny, I read this right before my commute home. They were watering the U-District drawbridge here in Seattle–now I know what it was for!

Goblin
Goblin
2 days ago

Me think the reason is most likely that this thing is moved once in a blue moon 🙂
I’ve gone through it a gazillion times and didn’t even know it’s a movable bridge.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 days ago
Reply to  Goblin

Yup, I caught the blue moon in that one picture, too! Apparently this bridge hasn’t got it’s chunk of the federal infrastructure bill money yet ha ha

Data
Data
2 days ago

I guess the heat was … a bridge to far.
*Puts on sun glasses*
Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaah!

ProfessorOfUselessFacts
ProfessorOfUselessFacts
2 days ago

Yeah, I’ve seen businesses here in Georgia put signs on their doors, warning customers to pull extra hard since the doors stick in the hot weather. Hot weather in NYC must suck, but come to Atlanta and see what real heat is like…

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 days ago

No thank you. I always trust people who say they live somewhere hot.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 days ago

Spray everything, not just the ends. All of it expands, not just the stubs. The approaches probably expanded as well.

Also, where’s a tub of lard when you need one? Lubrication…

Ben
Ben
2 days ago

I wonder how much time and money was spent engineering this bridge, only for them to take an angle grinder to “fix” it.

Drew
Drew
2 days ago
Reply to  Ben

And I wonder how much it’s going to suck to drive over the newly-enlarged gap during a cold snap.

Church
Church
2 days ago
Reply to  Ben

I’m wondering if it got a bit stuck and grated against itself, leaving a nasty burr or something that they wanted to grind off before cards drove over it and popped tires.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
2 days ago

I like how two guys with boots, vests, hardhats and all the other PPE were watching the guy in a tank top and sneakers grind on the jammed bridge.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 days ago

Nice butt crack shot too.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 days ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

He moonlights as a plumber, don’t you know

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 days ago
Reply to  Greensoul

Oh yeah, I assumed as much. Presumably he moonlights often.

KevFC
KevFC
2 days ago

It happens only when >95deg, so don’t do that!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 days ago

In a few decades those bridges will be underwater anyway.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
2 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

That should provide plenty of cooling!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 days ago

Oh I dunno. By then the seas might be 95F too.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
2 days ago

So 2 problems? Machine overheat and thermal expansion?
Thermal expansion is a given, but the motor overheating at only 95F is kind of sad.

Last edited 2 days ago by Fix It Again Tony
Mechjaz
Mechjaz
2 days ago

It doesn’t seem that crazy. Thermal expansion at 95 degrees is definitely a thing, especially if the metal is soaked with heat and not able to dissipate heat any further into the surrounding air. Surveyors sometimes use chains made from a special alloy called invar that has a low thermal expansion coefficient to ensure their measurements are true irrespective of the temperatures.

Similarly, the motor likely wasn’t able to dissipate enough heat, not simply failing because it’s 95 degrees out (it is failing because it’s 95, but complexly dontchaknow). Like a human body (which also have unique responses to heat! Temperatures above 90 are damn dangerous for me: I lost 2.5 pounds of water weight in a single hours’ workout yesterday), it’s about dissipation. I’d wager these motors aren’t designed with intensive, thermostatic water jackets and radiators and things.

Jambles Hamblepants
Jambles Hamblepants
2 days ago

This happens not all the time, but maybe once every other year in Seattle, where there are many drawbridges and a swing bridge like this. Metal expands when it’s hot.

The Dude
The Dude
2 days ago

This reminds me of the issue the Seattle monorail has where on one of the corners it’s too tight for two to be crossing the same time going opposite directions. The fix was just to ensure they don’t have them go around the corner at the same time, which worked until a few years ago when they got stuck.

Last edited 2 days ago by The Dude
Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 day ago
Reply to  The Dude

“Mono means one, and rail mean rail”
“Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!”
-The best Simpsons episode ever

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 days ago

See, swing bridges are so last year. Bascule brides are where it’s at, plus if you don’t want to wait for the boat you can just Elwood it. But you better have cop springs and cop shocks.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 days ago

Don’t forget the cop motor!

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I was thinking about the landing.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 days ago

I do wonder about how thermal expansion on bridges is factored into design, especially on works from previous centuries. I’m familiar with the expansion joints on bridges in PA, and wonder if the range of temps designed for is too narrow or if a higher temp floor and ceiling (but the same amplitude of range) is needed now?
At least they have the option to cool it with water. Charleston Harbor is so warm it is compared to “an indoor heated swimming pool” and wouldn’t cool much!
https://www.seatemperature.org/north-america/united-states/charleston-harbor.htm

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 days ago
Reply to  Jalop Gold

Even warm or (what we consider)hot water on hot metal will cool it down: it takes an enormous amount of calories to evaporate the liquid. Counter-intuitive, but true

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

True, but I’m really pointing out how the 20° lower water temp in NYC is certainly advantageous in this application.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 days ago
Reply to  Jalop Gold

Point. And 85°F is pretty darn hot for seawater not near the equator. Ah: I see that, while the port itself is deep water, the surrounding beaches have a quite shallow slope. Makes sense

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Yeah, as a transplant I don’t go to the beach between Memorial Day-Labor day. Summer here is like winter up north, you judge establishments by the quality of their HVAC more than food (although the food bar is high here).

Last edited 2 days ago by Jalop Gold
Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 days ago
Reply to  Jalop Gold

Checking Street View I see the deck surface is a PCC slab with pretty long panels. They all expand the long way in the heat, so the curved butt joints at each abutment no longer have enough clearance. Both the deck surface AND the abutment surfaces are expanded long-ways, so it’s a double-whammy.

Drew
Drew
2 days ago

Seems like the easiest temporary solution, if it is truly only used about 4 times per year, is to restrict use on hot days (or just keep it in place all summer), if possible.

I’d love to know whether the engineers specified operating parameters that included temperature limits. I would wonder if there was a clearly stipulated maximum temp in the design documents that was ignored or if this was completely unexpected.

Weddings/Birthdays/Whale Breachings
Weddings/Birthdays/Whale Breachings
2 days ago

So, in other words, the otherwise fully competent State Of New York public works departments are blaming Summer for their lack of maintenance?

Neat.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
2 days ago

Kinda like Texas blaming heat for their electrical grid collapsing.

Patrick Castelvecchi
Patrick Castelvecchi
2 days ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

Wait… I thought it was renewables not working in the cold?!? Somehow it’s renewables fault. That is the only fact not in dispute for Texas’ grid collapsing… It’s never the grid’s fault or fossil fuel burning plants.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
2 days ago

haha to be fair, the cold snap was the worst they have seen in a century. I was there for it, and it was brutal. I can forgive them for not being prepared for something that happens once every hundred years. The rolling blackouts 4 months later that they blamed on excessive heat… Not so much. It was freaking summer in Texas, it’s always hotter than Hades’ nethers down there! That they should be prepared for! I am now a happy refugee from that state and looking forward to not going back.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 days ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

From the frying pan into the fire….

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 days ago

Like a bridge over boiling waters, I will not swing round …

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
2 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I was going to say something about water under troubled bridges, but I like your version better.

We have an elevator at work which has been broken since March. A hero recently wrote “Never gonna lift you up, never gonna let you down” on the out of order sign.

Last edited 2 days ago by IRegertNothing, Esq.
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