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Christie Bridge Scandal

By the Numbers: Why George Washington Bridge Chaos Was a Big Deal

It's the traffic, stupid. The George Washington Bridge is the busiest in the world for drivers, carrying more than a quarter million vehicles per day.

It's the traffic, stupid. The George Washington Bridge is the busiest in the world for drivers, carrying more than a quarter million vehicles per day. CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

The traffic on the George Washington Bridge is nothing to joke about.

Anyone who has driven from New Jersey to New York City knows the frustration of idling in long lines to get through the toll booths at the George Washington Bridge - the world's busiest for motorists. And then, on the other side, to encounter more jams on the Cross Bronx Expressway, ranked the worst highway in America. It's estimated drivers spend an average of six days stalled in traffic per year on that roadway.

So, closing traffic lanes at the entrance to the bridge -- as N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's aides are alleged to have done in an act of political retribution -- really is a big deal.

It carries 102 million vehicles a year, making it the world's busiest road bridge, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates it.

The bridge, which spans the Hudson River to connect the nation’s largest city with one of its most densely populated suburbs, carries over a quarter million vehicles every day. Commuters can encounter traffic congestion during rush hour on any day, making further disruption to that flow a driver's nightmare.

Here are some facts about the venerable double-decker steel suspension bridge:

  • It carries 102 million vehicles a year, making it the world's busiest road bridge, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates it. In 2011, it carried an average of 276,000 vehicles a day.
  • The upper level has four lanes in each direction and the lower level has three lanes in each direction -- making it the world's only 14-lane bridge.
  • The bridge is notorious for traffic jams during rush hour, as are the highways connected to it, including the Cross Bronx Expressway, which traffic analytical service INRIX ranked the worst roadway for congestion in the United States in 2012. Drivers waste more than six days in traffic every year, it says.
  • The bridge has a total of 31 toll lanes, 12 in the upper level toll plaza, 12 in the lower level toll plaza, and seven in the Palisades Interstate Parkway toll plaza.
  • It has a 3,500-foot center span suspended between two 570-foot steel towers, and the strength to carry two levels of roadway or rail.
  • The span was the longest in the world until the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge's 4,200-foot span in San Francisco in 1937.
  • The GW Bridge's total roadway length is 4,760 feet.
  • The upper level was opened to traffic in 1931 and two more center lanes were opened to traffic in 1946. The six lanes of the lower level were completed in 1962.
  • Tolls vary according to the vehicle, but are only collected for the eastbound direction into New York. Currently, a car costs $13 cash to cross or $9 or $11 for an E-Z Pass, depending on whether it is rush hour.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists cross for free on the sidewalk.
  • In 2006, it took in about $1 million per day when tolls for cars were $6 cash, and $5 or $4 for E-ZPass.
  • The bridge has an average of 10 suicides per year. In 2012, 18 people threw themselves to their death from its span, according to city statistics cited by the New York Post.