After dignitaries, elected officials and community leaders from Brooklyn and Queens marched to meet at the center of the new span, Cuomo cut the ribbon to welcome the new bridge. It opened to traffic at 11:30 p.m. that night.
Cuomo, a Queens native, described his memories crossing the old Kosciuszko Bridge, first built in 1939.
“I spent my childhood going back and forth across the bridge with our family,” he said. “The first time I heard my father use expletives was on this bridge.”
The $555 million Queens-bound span is just the first phase of the project. A second Brooklyn-bound bridge is set to open sometime in 2020, with construction starting this May.
The cable-stayed bridges, the first bridge constructed in New York City since the Verrazano in 1964, will replace the current 78-year-old structure.
Once the project is complete, the Queens-bound span will carry five lanes of traffic, while the Brooklyn-bound side will have four lanes. The bridge will add a 20-foot-wide bikeway and walkway and shoulders on both spans.
The new Kosciuszko Bridge will also be 35 feet lower than the original structure.
“The old structure, 78 years old, did its job well, but it is structurally and operationally obsolete, and has been for a long time,” Cuomo said. “The delays have been legendary for a long time.”
According to Cuomo, the original bridge, which the state will implode in the summer, was only designed for 10,000 cars. Today, nearly 180,000 cars use the bridge.
“Any time of day, the traffic would back up,” Cuomo said. “It was really a problem for the entire city and caused a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people.”
The governor said the new bridge will benefit nearly 200,000 commuters per day, and has a lifespan of 100 years. When the second span is finished, he said, there will be a 65 percent reduction in delays.
“Think how much time and fuel is going to be saved,” he said.
Cuomo invoked Roosevelt in his remarks. He said FDR, who was the governor of New York before becoming president, had a “tremendous positive energy.”
“FDR was all about what we can do, he never took no for an answer,” Cuomo said. “He believed in New York. He believed there was nothing we couldn’t do.”
That’s why Cuomo rode in FDR’s 1932 car, which was the first time the vehicle was taken out of a museum and used in three decades.
“I bought it to commemorate today and to bring a spirit of FDR to this bridge,” Cuomo said.
The governor called his latest infrastructure project “a beautiful bridge.” It’s the first cable-stay bridge built in New York, with towers at 180 feet.
“I believe that Queens and Brooklyn deserve a beautiful bridge and a bridge that graces the Queens and Brooklyn skyline,” he said.
Cuomo rattled off a list of other projects he has funded, including the Second Avenue subway line, the new Tappan Zee Bridge, improvements at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and the new Penn Station.
He considers the $100 billion investment the “most ambitious construction program” in the history of the state.
“For too long, we have been relying on the legacy of our grandparents,” he said. “If you want to continue to grow, if you want to continue to lead, you have to continue to build.”
Elected officials from both boroughs praised the governor for his effort.
“Today, he's taking one giant step towards making sure future generations, those we will never meet, have an infrastructure they can count on,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “For those of us who drive this bridge every day, we thank you for alleviating this great traffic we sit in.”
She also thanked Cuomo for involving neighborhood residents in the project.
“This governor realized this project must be driven by our communities,” Katz said. “Our concerns have been taken into account step by step.”
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who represents Greenpoint, even indirectly compared Cuomo to another New Yorker now sitting in the White House.
“It's pretty clear what this governor is all about,” he said. “He builds bridges, not walls.”
According to Lentol, the Kosciuszko Bridge was originally called the Meeker Avenue Bridge. It was constructed to help alleviate traffic on local streets and to connect growing neighborhoods in both Queens and Brooklyn.
“But this bridge soon became a sore spot in the neighborhood,” Lentol said. “It was quickly overwhelmed by cars, and for decades it has been a traffic mess.
“Drivers hate to cross it,” he added, “and nearby residents, as I'm one of them, complain about the pollution and the noise emanating from it all the time, night and day.”
The building of the new Kosciuszko Bridge represents “a new page” for Greenpoint, he said.
“It is a state-of-the-art crossing that relieves congestion and will have a direct impact on the quality of life of our residents,” Lentol said.
The original Kosciuszko Bridge was renamed in 1940 to commemorate a Polish Revolutionary War hero, Tadeusz Kosciuszko. According to the Polish Consul General, Maciej Golubiewski, Kosciuszko was an engineer who helped lead the Americans to victory.
Golubiewski also spoke about the bridge namesake’s character, including his strong beliefs about equality.
“Kosciuszko was a prince of tolerance,” he said. “He stood up for the rights of European serfs, and specifically African slaves, for whose education he designated all of his fortunes in his last will.”
According to Golubiewski, President Thomas Jefferson called him “the purest son of liberty.” The Polish diplomat called Kosciuszko a “national hero” in both Poland and the United States for his beliefs in peace, democracy and “equality of people regardless of their skin color or religion.”
The new bridge, which will keep the name, will continue to be a symbol of Kosciuszko’s life and contributions, he said.
“The Kosciuszko bridge is a symbol of the critical link between our diverse communities and all that New York represents,” Golubiewski said. “It is a celebration of how progress can be achieved by holding true to our values and purpose.”
The afternoon ceremony was followed by an LED light show on the new bridge that night. The exhibition was synchronized to music on multiple New York radio stations.
“It’s just the beginning,” Cuomo said. “When you look at this bridge and these towers, remember that there is nothing New York can’t do when we put our mind to it.”