PROJECT COST: $508 million

That most famous icon of New York's island identity, the Brooklyn Bridge, was originally constructed in 1883. By 2008, however, Popular Mechanics magazine has named the landmark one of the 10 pieces of U.S. Infrastructure the country needs to fix immediately. The bridge, after all, is the oldest suspension bridge in the nation still in operation.

Brooklyn Bridge Renovation
Brooklyn Bridge Renovation

In 2003, shortly after the August 14 citywide blackout-during which the bridge was used by pedestrians on a scale unprecedented since the attacks of Sept. 11-a Village Voice article found that people walking over the bridge had trouble keeping balance as the bridge not only swayed but bounced. While movement on a suspension bridge is only natural, several engineers interviewed for the article noted that the effect of crowds on suspension bridges is not well understood. The city's Department of Transportation confirmed, in the article that it received "numerous reports from concerned residents. On the bridge, pedestrians reported feeling seasick, having to weave as they walked, and hearing noises ranging from creaking to grinding."

Following the 2007 collapse of Minneapolis' I-35, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer ordered inspection of 49 similar bridges across the state, eight of which were in New York City. While the state's Department of Transportation assured the public in a Newsday article that bridges ready to collapse are immediately taken out of circulation ("We pay [experts] to worry about our bridges," said DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen), the article pointed out that the Brooklyn Bridge, which carries over 130,000 vehicles a day, and its two pedestrian spans were rated poor by both the state and the city due to problems with joints and ramp decks. According to a New York Times article, Brooklyn Bridge was downgraded from fair to poor in 2006, and in August 2007 the city said the 5,989-ft-long bridge was undergoing $149 million in repairs.

The bridge is finally undergoing a $508 million renovation, which started late last year and will go on for four years. The work will include widened entrance ramps from the FDR Drive and exit ramps to Cadman Plaza, as part of a safety and aesthetic program.

According to a Skanska Koch spokesperson, the biggest challenge on the project - aside from maintaining traffic on an extremely busy passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn - is simply the task of honoring a landmark.

"It's the Brooklyn Bridge. It's an iconic structure that is recognized the world over," the spokesperson said. "At the time it was built it was a marvel, so all these years later everyone is curious what is going to be done. We just want to respect the original structure and the community around it."

Key Players

Owner: New York City Department of Transportation
General Contractor: Skanska Koch, Whitestone, NY