The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge
The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge was an engineering marvel when it was completed in 1888. At 6,767 feet, it was then the longest bridge in the world, and by connecting the east and west banks of the mighty Hudson River in New York, it connected the country in a new way, allowing not only for increased commerce, but the transportation of troops to the coast during the world wars.
It had been closed for 35 years since a 1974 fire damaged a portion of the decking. By then, the bridge was no longer commercially important, so there was no incentive to repair it for railroad traffic.
Under the guidance of the nonprofit group Walkway Over the Hudson, the bridge opened to the public Oct. 3, 2009 as a state park. It's the world's tallest pedestrian bridge.
A Hard Luck City's Renaissance
Like many small Northeastern cities, Poughkeepsie's heyday has passed. Its factories have shuttered, its once-vital downtown has seen businesses and customers flee toward suburban malls outside of the city limits. Its historic buildings are, in many cases, decaying.
The redevelopment of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge as Walkway Over the Hudson State Park is emblematic of how cities like Poughkeepsie (foreground) are trying to use the relics of their industrial past to bolster their future. An attraction like the world's tallest pedestrian bridge has the potential to make Poughkeepsie a regional and international destination.
The bridge project also has the potential to showcase the Hudson River, which itself has been restored through years of effort by environmental groups, governments and private citizens. Whereas the Hudson River was thought of as a sewer for generations, today it is seen as an asset for communities from New York City to the Adirondacks.
A $38.8 Million Project
While engineering studies have deemed the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge structurally sound, transforming it into the world's tallest pedestrian bridge required nearly $39 million. Opening as Walkway Over the Hudson State Park Oct. 3, 2009, the project is a centerpiece of the state's plans to celebrate in 2009 the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage up the river.
One study estimates that the bridge will be visited more than 250,000 times each year, generating $21 million for the local economy. (Though that analysis predated the recession.)
An Urban Park, 212 Feet Above Ground
Restored from a burnt-out railroad bridge, in October 2009 construction was completed on Walkway Over the Hudson State Park -- a 6,767-foot linear park towering 212 feet over the Hudson River.
A broad thoroughfare will provide enough space for walkers, bikers, vendors and performers. Within easy walking distance of the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., railroad station, it will be accessible from New York City, or anywhere with an Amtrak connection. Besides being a regional attraction for viewing events like fireworks displays and hot-air balloon festivals, it is hoped that the bridge will become a tourist destination for those wishing to view the majestic Hudson River from a unique and awe-inspiring vantage point.