10. The Kosciuszko Bridge Was Built Originally as a Placeholder for the BQE
The Kosciuszko Bridge is the essence of a utilitarian, WPA-era steel structure, about which very little seems to be special. New York City is filled with similar public works: parkways, tunnels, post offices, bridges, schools and libraries. For the better part of a century, this understated aesthetic has served as an indistinct backdrop presence, and has shaped the city to no small degree.
The Kosciuszko was built in 1939 as a placeholder for a regional highway system that did not yet exist, and appreciating its history means understanding the modus operandi of Robert Moses, New York City’s long-standing, quasi-dictatorial builder of everything. Its birth was premised, not only on the thing itself, but on how it would facilitate all of the other unbuilt things yet to come.
The early planning stages of the bridge in the 1930s coincided with two other enormous construction projects: the Brooklyn-Queens Connecting Highway and the 1939 World’s Fair, both of which Moses initiated. The bridge’s public selling point was that it would provide a fast route from Brooklyn to the World’s Fair grounds in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens.
But its longer-term value was to serve as a one-mile section of a future highway that would run through Brooklyn and Queens, and ultimately become the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The Kosciuszko was the future for a much shorter period of time than one might expect of a bridge of its scale and scope of ambition. In 1966, the bridge underwent a renovation, and by then was already considered outdated, notorious for its many shortcomings.