George Washington Bridge Painter – Dangerous Jobs
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So, how’s this for an occupational hazard, spending a day suspended hundreds of feet from the ground above fourteen lanes of legendary rush hour traffic? At least it beats any corner office view, and ABC’s own Bob Woodruff gave it a whirl.
It is a crown, atop the New York city skyline, made of cables and steel beams, the busiest bridge in the world, almost a mile long, towering more than 600 feet high, suspended over the Hudson River. The George Washington Bridge is painted by workers balancing and walking, sometimes sliding down the beam. It takes them more than a year and a half just to finish the job.
Hardly any journalists have ever been allowed to the top of the bridge, but we were. It is a rare look at life atop this marvel of American engineering. So rare and exclusive, potential bridge painters need to ace a series of tests, and this is the final exam.
A large portion of them, when they get to this height determine there’s another way for them…a better way to make a living.
That’s the bridge painter test right there, that beam that’s up there.
90 percent of them fail that?
Some people fail that half way out, and the rest of them fail where they have to move from the box to that next section of the beam.
To go any further, we had to take the test, and prove we wouldn’t panic. This is certainly not for the faint of heart, but as a once-upon-a-time mountain climber, I did feel somewhat safe.
But the real danger is out here where the barrels of the bridge are round and sloping. And there is no net between us and the 14 lanes of traffic whizzing below.
The workers told me none of their colleagues have ever died.
There’s been nine times that I’ve actually been scared, but obviously up here you have to be conscious of where you are.
People say, oh you know, you’re crazy, you know, you feel this and that, but as soon as you lose the fear of being up here, that’s when you’re in trouble.
There have been some close calls.
Have you ever fallen?
Did you ever slip?
Obec-Gonzales has painted three other bridges. This is his first time on this one.
What’s the best moment up here?
The best moment is probably in the morning when it’s quietest. You’re just up here by yourself. It’s cool. Occasionally a helicopter will go by. You know the traffic guys.
There have never been any women on this job. They teased my producer, Lana Zach, that she was the first female to scale these barrels. But Gonzales has a daughter who might be a future candidate.
She tells everybody what I do. You know, she really gets a kick out of me being up here and showing her the pictures painting the silver or painting the gray, the epoxy, it doesn’t matter.
What do you’re kids say about this, about you’re being up here?
My son, my son, every time I take a picture up here, the first thing he looks for is my lanyard, to make sure that I’ve got it on.
He’s a smart kid.
Look at this place. It is just stunningly beautiful. Right down there you can see the statue of liberty from here. You can look all, all, almost up to West Point (the US Army college in Monmouth, NJ).
For all the beauty, there are real safety concerns. Everyone wears two harnesses. Everything is securely attached. Anything that falls could cause a traffic accident below.
You guys were never trapped out here because of some kind of weather?
Actually, these guys had a major hurricane blow through, and it was a serious situation out here.
When that severe wind barreled through several years ago the painters were right here on the rig.
A twister (tornado) sort of came close enough that it grabbed the rig, brought it up in the air and slammed it down.
Despite those dangers it is a beautiful place up here, a rare view for all of us. I’m Bob Woodruff for Nightline on top of the George Washington Bridge.