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Ponquogue Bridge - Hampton Bays, New York by © Sophie W. Smith
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The Ponquogue Bridge is a 2,812-foot (857 m) long bridge over Shinnecock Bay in the hamlet of Hampton Bays, New York (within the town of Southampton). Maintained by the Department of Works for Suffolk County, the 29-span bridge carries two lanes of County Route 32 over the bay, connecting Hampton Bays to the eastern end of Fire Island. The bridge, which is made of concrete, has a 55-foot (17 m) vertical clearance above Shinnecock Bay. Constructed in 1986 at the cost of $14 million, the bridge replaced an older span over the bay, which was a 1,000-foot (300 m) long wooden drawbridge built in 1930. The former Ponquogue Bridge currently serves as a fishing pier under the current span.

In 1938, after the destruction to Fire Island from the Long Island Express hurricane, Robert Moses and W. Earle Andrews, both part of the Long Island State Park Commission, proposed reconstruction of the island. This proposal included an extension of the Ocean Parkway out from it’s terminus at Captree State Park across Fire Island to Westhampton. This new parkway, which would boast 22 feet (6.7 m) wide roadways, would have connections back to the mainland at Smith Point County Park and Ponquogue with parkway spurs across Shinnecock Bay and the Great South Bay. The new spur at Ponquogue, deemed the Ponquogue Parkway, would have marked the eastern terminus of the new Ocean Parkway extension. The proposal lived until the cut-back to Smith Point County Park in 1962 for environmental issues with such a construction, ending any proposal for a parkway in the area of Hampton Bays.

After the destruction caused to Fire Island because of the 1938 Long Island Express hurricane, Robert Moses, director of the Long Island State Park Commission (LISPC) proposed reconstruction of Fire Island to restrain future damage from other natural disasters. The $9.3 million proposal, designed by Moses and W. Earle Andrews, would bring 35,000,000 cubic yards (950,000,000 cu ft) of sand to bolster Fire Island. This sand would create a complete fill from Fire Island Inlet to the United States Coast Guard station at Shinnecock. These new fills would be approximately 80 feet (24 m) wide and would also go to working on Moriches Inlet and Shinnecock Inlet. Sand would also be dredged from the Great South Bay, Moriches Bay and Shinnecock Bay to boost the effort of shoring Fire Island. To control erosion on Fire Island, Moses and Andrews proposed a brand new 30 feet (9.1 m) wide two-lane parkway over the fill. The 22 feet (6.7 m) wide concrete lanes and the 8 feet (2.4 m) turf shoulders would help prevent the beach erosion along the island.3

In the need for these new parkways, Moses and Andrews also proposed two parkway spurs across the Great South Bay and Shinnecock Bay. These parkway spurs, which would use bascule lift bridges, were to connect to the William Floyd Parkway (current-day CR 46) and Ponquogue Avenue (current-day CR 32), which would cross their respective bodies of water and terminate at a junction with Montauk Highway (NY 27A) in Shirley and Hampton Bays. Deemed locally as the Ponquogue Parkway,4 but also considered an extension of the Ocean Parkway, the new 47.5 miles (76.4 km) parkway proposal would also bring forth three new parks into the New York State Parks system: Smith Point (replacing the current-day Smith Point County Park), Point O’Woods (in the namesake community) and Quogue. Fire Island State Park would also be rebuilt.3 Within that year, Andrews sliced over $6 million off of the project, eliminating a bridge over Fire Island Inlet along with the state parks at Quogue and Point O’Woods. The other 1938 change would be a new turnoff in Hampton Bays rather than construction out to Southampton and NY 27A. This money would be paid for by Suffolk Count and by a grant from the Public Works Administration.5

This proposal was opposed to by locals due to its costs in 1938, but raised again in 1944 by Moses due to the belief that no storms would ever hit the area again. In 1962, Moses brought, with support of a 15-member commission that approved a $137 million (1962 USD) shoreline plan from Tottenville, Staten Island to Montauk, a truncated proposal that would extend the Ocean Parkway across most of Fire Island to a junction in Smith Point County Park rather than all the way out to Shinnecock. Residents of Fire Island argued that the time it would take to construct the new parkway would take too long and should invest in a temporary solution for protection of the island. At that time, the group funding the project stated that all it would need to construct this new parkway was approval of the New York State Legislature. Suffolk County and the state also intended to withhold funds from any project that did not have the parkway extension.6

Bridge replacement

In 1976, the original Ponquogue Bridge had its weight limit on the structure reduced from 15 tons to 8 tons due to the neglect condition the bridge had attained. Timbers that sustained the bridge were rotting away, which was part of making the bridge harder to maintain. Discussions between Suffolk County and the United States Coast Guard made it hard to determine the exact location of a new bridge, which was discussed since 1973.7 In 1977, the county applied for a new bridge to be constructed 300 feet (91 m) from the original structure, costing $6 million (1976 USD) and designed as a bulb-shaped plan. The Coast Guard found that at least 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) of wetlands would be affected by this new structure and that any proposal for a building permit would be denied. By February 1980, the county resubmitted a proposal that would reduce it to 1.5 acres (0.61 ha) and also cost $14 million (1980 USD).8

The Coast Guard called in an engineering firm from New Jersey to design alternatives to the county’s proposal, which would attempt to prevent damage to the wetlands. The new structure called for would have approaches 800 feet (240 m) shorter and was eventually accepted by the town board for Southampton in 1980 on a 3-2 vote.8 This new span, which would be 55 feet (17 m) high, was deemed ridiculous by one local, who claimed that they should choose to only replace the drawbridge, which would cost about $2 million.9

The Coast Guard approved a new proposal for a bridge 150 feet (46 m) away from the old decaying structure in 1982.7 Construction commenced throughout 19862 and opened in January 1987, at the same $14 million structure.7 However, during construction in 1985, a 145 feet (44 m), 90 ton girder that was being moved on a crane as part of bridge construction, fell loose and tumbled 30 feet (9.1 m) and was split in half upon contact with the barge. The $29,000 girder did not harm anyone working on the project.10 The old structure had its drawbridge span removed by Suffolk County, but left the former approaches in place. In the time since the bridge was constructed, the old one became a popular fishing pier and in 1997, were renovated for use. Two years later, Suffolk County deemed the approaches of the old bridge to be a “marine park”.Read more

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