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Veto Message

January 20, 1894

To the House of Representatives:

I hereby return without my approval House bill No. 3289, entitled "An act to authorize the New York and New Jersey Bridge Companies to construct and maintain a bridge across the Hudson River between New York City and the State of New Jersey."

This bill authorizes the construction of a bridge over the North River between the States of New York and New Jersey, the terminus of which in the city of New York shall not be below Sixty-sixth street. It contemplates the construction of a bridge upon piers placed in the river. No mention is made of a single span crossing the entire river, nor is there anything in the bill indicating that it was within the intention of the Congress that there should be a bridge built without piers. I am by no means certain that the Secretary of War, who is invested by the terms of the bill with considerable discretion so far as the plans for the structure are concerned, would have the right to exact of the promoters of this enterprise the erection of a bridge spanning the entire river.

Much objection has been made to the location of any piers in the river for the reason that they would seriously interfere with the commerce which seeks the port of New York through that channel. It is certainly very questionable whether piers should be permitted at all in the North River at the point designated for the location of this bridge. It seems absolutely certain that within a few years a great volume of shipping will extend to that location, which would be seriously embarrassed by such obstruction.

I appreciate fully the importance of securing some means by which railroad traffic can cross this river, and no one can fail to realize the serious inconvenience to travel caused by lack of facilities of that character. At the same time, it is a plain dictate of wisdom and expediency that the commerce of the river be not unnecessarily interfered with by bridges or in any other manner.

Engineers whose judgment upon the matter can not be questioned, including the engineer of the company proposing to build this bridge, have expressed the opinion that the entire river can be spanned safely and effectively by a suspension bridge, or a construction not needing the use of piers.

The company to which the permission to bridge the river is granted in the bill under consideration was created by virtue of an act of the legislature of the State of New York which became a law, by reason of the failure of the governor to either approve or veto the same, on the 30th day of April, 1890. It may be safely assumed that the members of the legislature which passed this law knew what was necessary for the protection of the commerce of the city of New York and had informed themselves concerning the plan of a bridge that should be built in view of all the interests concerned.

By paragraph 24 of the law creating this company it is provided that "the said bridge shall be constructed with a single span over the entire river between towers or piers located between the span and the existing pier-head lines in either State," and that "no pier or tower or other obstruction of a permanent character shall be placed or built in the river between said towers or piers under this act."

In view of such professional judgment, and considering the interests which would be interfered with by the location of piers in the river, and having due regard to the judgment of the legislature of the State of New York, it seems to me that a plan necessitating the use of piers in the bed of the river should be avoided. The question of increased expense of construction or the compromise of conflicting interests should not outweigh the other important considerations involved.

I notice the bill provides that the companies availing themselves of its privileges shall receive no greater pay for transporting the mails across the bridge than is allowed per mile to railroads using the same. If this is intended, as the language seems to import, to authorize this bridge company to charge the United States Government a toll for the carriage of its mails across the bridge equal to the amount which may be paid per mile by the Government for carrying the mails by railroads crossing the bridge, it seems to me it should not be allowed. The expense to the Government for carrying the mails over the structure should beyond any doubt be limited to the compensation paid the railroads for transportation.

An exceedingly important objection to the bill remains to be considered. In 1890 the North River Bridge Company was incorporated by an act of Congress for the purpose of constructing a bridge across the North River, the New York terminus of which was located at or near Twenty-third street in the city of New York. The proposition to construct the bridge at that point was a subject very carefully and thoroughly examined at that time and during the agitation of the project for a number of years prior to the passage of the act. As a result of such examination and much discussion, Congress granted permission to this company to construct a bridge having a single span and suspended from towers on each side of the river, and in the act especially prohibited the placing of any piers in the river, either of a temporary or of a permanent character, in connection with said bridge. This plan to bridge the river without piers was at that time considered feasible by the engineers of the company, and it accepted the terms of the act. Before this permission was finally granted a number of bills were introduced in the Congress covering the same subject, which were referred to Government engineers. Reports were made by these officers in every case insisting upon a construction with a single span and without piers in the bed of the river.

The eighth subdivision of the bill herewith returned provides that any company heretofore created for the purpose of bridging the river may avail itself of the provisions of the act, and makes such company subject to all its provisions. This, of course, has reference to the North River Bridge Company and releases that company from the prohibition of the act under which it was permitted to span the river and permits it to construct piers in the river. It seems to me that the language of the bill under consideration, so far as it relates to this particular feature, is equivalent to a new grant to that company, differing very materially from the grant which was thought expedient at the time it was before the Congress, and removes the guaranty that in the construction of its bridge there shall be no obstructions in the river such as were especially guarded against by the bill originally passed for its benefit. In effect a new charter is granted to a company not named in the bill, and with no apparent reason for the important enlargement of its privileges thus accomplished. It is entirely apparent that the reasons against obstructions in the North River which might interfere with commerce and navigation and the beneficial use of the harbor of New York are immensely strengthened when they are applied to a location in the river far below the location of the bridge which is permitted in the bill now before me.

Whatever question there may be about the injurious character of the obstruction at Sixty-sixth street in New York City, I believe there can be no doubt whatever that piers placed in the river more than 2 miles below, at Twenty-third street, would be very serious impediments. If this thoroughfare, so important to the commerce of the country and the State of New York, is to be crossed by bridges, each scheme for that purpose should be considered by itself and its merits and advisability determined by the circumstances which naturally belong to it. The objection to piers in the river for the purpose of supporting bridges is in any event so serious that the considerations which would determine the question of a bridge located at Sixty-sixth street ought not in such an indirect manner as is done by this bill be applied to a like structure at Twenty-third street.


Grover Cleveland, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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