SHRUB OAK, N.Y. – As a self-taught photographer, David Rocco has captured the images of historic restoration projects throughout the Hudson Valley for almost two decades. Since 2013, his prized photos have focused on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and his vantage points of it are unlike any others.
Rocco has traveled aboard helicopters, trains, and boats to capture the new bridge’s construction in over 10,000 action and progression shots. The results of his relentless efforts include numerous aerial-photo close-ups of the emerging bridge towers, which now top at 419-feet high, as well as waterfront views of tug-boat teams at work throughout the seasons.
With a passion for both construction and history, Rocco knows that “once the moment is over, it’s over.” Some of his shots were taken within a few minutes after waiting days on location for a specific event. His photos of the overnight removal of the original Tappan Zee Bridge’s truss section, for example, were taken at 3 a.m. as the Left Coast Lifter (a $50 million floating crane built to assist in the eastern span replacement of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge) moved the section across the Hudson Line railroad tracks this past November.
Rocco also witnessed how the Hudson Valley’s often unpredictable weather can be at odds with the project. Alongside the construction teams, Rocco endured minus-7–degree temperatures while taking photos of two project tugboats breaking up ice along the Tarrytown waterfront. In early March of this year, despite the extreme cold temperatures and high wind conditions brought on by the first of three nor’easters, Rocco rushed down to the Yonkers/Hastings waterfront to take photos of two sets of assembled girder sections that broke loose from their mooring at the job site. Rocco’s images illustrate how a trio of tugboats had to scramble to separate, catch, and save these assembled girders sections before any major damage occurred along the shoreline. Rocco refers to this moment as: “Chasing Girders.”
Through his lens, Rocco witnesses not just the progression of the new Tappan Zee Bridge itself, but also the diverse teams of people who are responsible for its construction. One of his favorite images is of the ironworkers connecting numerous single girder pieces into larger units during the “Bridge Launching” phase, which took place on the Tarrytown Landing. Another one of Rocco’s favorite images is of the ironworkers standing by as they observe the last westbound section being set by the Left Coast Lifter. In this shot, he said, it is impossible not to feel a sense of completion, relief, and pride. Rocco emphasizes his admiration of the skill and collaboration that he has witnessed over the years among the engineers, carpenters, masons, laborers, ironworkers, operating engineers, tug-boat teams, office managers, and more.
During his recent exhibit at the John C. Hart Memorial Library in Shrub Oak, Rocco pointed out specific examples in his photographs of the superior craftsmanship that has gone into the new Tappan Zee Bridge project. For instance, the radius of the curvature in the new bridge’s roadway, he says, will allow drivers to steer more easily. Also, the northern span of the bridge will feature a 9-foot-wide shared-use path with six sections, called “bump outs” or more formally known as belvederes, with panoramic views of the Hudson Valley. Each belvedere will have its own theme showcasing the waterfront’s history.
Rocco has traveled not only across the Hudson Valley but also to other states and countries that present their own unique connections to the project. He has visited the factories in neighboring states, including Pennsylvania, that provided the American-made steel used in the bridge’s construction. And he also convinced his wife, Ruby, to travel to the historic Millau Viaduct in southern France to learn more about cutting-edge bridge construction methods. Millau Viaduct is considered the tallest bridge in the world, with one of its masts reaching 1,125 feet.
Rocco’s photo collection is as colorful as it is patriotic. The bridge’s silver structure contrasts the Hudson Valley’s green and blue palette, while American flags wave nearby from cranes and boats. One section of Rocco’s recent exhibit displays an image of a Left Coast Lifter passing the Freedom Tower on its way to the project site. Another image is of Opening Day, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo drove U.S. Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, Chip Galella, across the new bridge in a canary-yellow 1955 Chevy Corvette. Galella was the first person to drive a vehicle across the original Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955.
Certainly, more photos are to come. Since retiring from the NYC Housing Authority in 2001, Rocco has far from slowed down in his involvement in Hudson Valley and New York City cultural and environmental initiatives. Other projects that have succeeded from his involvement include the Walkway Over the Hudson, Mount Beacon Fire Tower Restoration Project, the Yorktown Community Dog Park, and the Mount Beacon Eight organization. Rocco also has co-authored a book with Don Keith about legendary WWII hero “Captain Dixie,” titled “The Indestructible Man.”
Rocco’s goal is to publish a table-top-style book of his photo collection when the new Tappan Zee Bridge is completed. Rocco can be contacted at email@example.com.