An emergency safety zone was declared in New York’s Hudson River Friday night after engineers found a span remaining from the old Tappan Zee Bridge had become unstable and could fall.

Engineers with Tappan Zee Constructors (TZC) notified watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector New York about the danger at 7:45 p.m. The river was closed to all traffic at the old bridge until noon Saturday, when the western side of the federal navigation channel was opened for limited traffic.

Vessels may transit the area after checking in with the Coast Guard patrol commander enforcing the safety zone. The Coast Guard cutter Sturgeon Bay and a boat crew from the Maritime Safety and Security Team - New York, were on scene to enforce the safety zone, along with county and state marine units.

The 1950s-era suspension bridge has been undergoing demolition, replaced by the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, a 3.1-mile, twin span stayed bridge costing $4 billion. The first new span opened last year, and the old bridge has been undergoing gradual demolition, its steel and concrete transported for recycling or use on artificial fishing reefs.

Steel cutting and burning on the old bridge superstructure had been ongoing daily, and the Coast Guard advised mariners bringing petroleum, chemical and hazardous cargo past the bridges to contact TZC tugboats or onshore representatives at least 30 minutes before so burning operations can be halted during their transits.

The cause of the near-structural failure on what is left of the old bridge was under investigation, and it delayed a planned full opening of the new bridge lanes planned for Saturday. The lanes would remain closed until engineers determine the stability issue with the old bridge poses no structural risk to the new, said Matthew Driscoll, executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority.


Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.