This 2000 photo shows the Philadelphia approach to the eastbound Betsy Ross Bridge. Approach signs designate the bridge as NJ 90; there is no corresponding PA 90 designation on the Philadelphia side of the span. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
A NEW EXPRESSWAY BRIDGE OVER THE DELAWARE: As early as 1955, officials called for the replacement of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, a low-level movable bridge and arch span, with a new high-level bridge. The old span was built in the late 1920's, before industry began to expand along the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, and according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, impeded navigation. Two years later, the Philadelphia Urban Traffic and Transportation Board, a predecessor agency to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), incorporated the proposed high-level bridge to New Jersey into its plan for a "five-mile-loop" expressway around Center City Philadelphia.
With an eye toward eventually replacing the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (which was owned by the Burlington County Bridge Commission), the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) expressed interest in building a bridge from the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia to Pennsauken, New Jersey. In conjunction with an expanded expressway network, the proposed "Delair Bridge" would also relieve traffic from the DRPA-owned Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Following two years of study, the DRPA announced plans for the Delair Bridge, as well as for what would become the Commodore Barry Bridge, in 1963.
Throughout the mid-1960's, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey debated the location of the bridge and its expressway approaches, the Pulaski Expressway (PA 90) and the NJ 90 Freeway. In 1967, after much deliberation, both states approved final construction plans for the bridge. Its location was to be adjacent to the Delair Railroad Bridge, a moveable span operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1970, both states submitted the bridge and its immediate approach roadways for inclusion into the Interstate highway system to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). However, the FHWA denied the request.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Construction of the Delair began in mid-1969. The steel through-truss bridge features a main span measuring 729 feet long, flanked by two 364½-foot-long side spans. To allow vessels from nearby ship terminals to pass underneath, the bridge was constructed with a mid-span clearance of 135 feet. Flanking the through-truss spans are 10 smaller deck truss spans (five on each side of the through-truss spans), and a total of 41 deck-girder spans. Including approaches, the bridge measures approximately 1.6 miles long.
Designed for the regional expressway network, the Betsy Ross Bridge originally featured an eight-lane roadway without median separation, allowing for flexibility in opening lanes during peak periods.
This 2001 photo shows the Betsy Ross Bridge (NJ 90) from an industrial area in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
OPENING DELAYED FOR TWO YEARS: Construction of the Delair Bridge - which was renamed the Betsy Ross Bridge in 1973 (making it the first major bridge in the U.S. to be named after a woman) - was actually completed in 1974. However, the ramps between the bridge and the Delaware Expressway (I-95) had not yet been completed, and Bridesburg residents protested that the ramps directly from the bridge to Richmond Street - the only ramps completed on the Pennsylvania side of the bridge - would disrupt the area. These residents succeeded in getting the DRPA to close off the ramps until the I-95 interchange was completed.
Finally, on April 30, 1976, the DRPA opened the $103 million Betsy Ross Bridge to traffic. New ramps connected the span with I-95 opened at the western approach, and with US 130 at the eastern approach. For its two-year opening delay, the bridge even received the 1976 award from the Philadelphia-based "Procrastinators' Club of America."
SEEKING A BETTER WAY TO THE BETSY ROSS BRIDGE: For nearly a generation, Bridesburg residents lived at an uneasy peace with the Betsy Ross Bridge. Although they were successful in stopping the direct ramps to the bridge, as well as the construction of the Pulaski Expressway, trucks continuing to rumble through their neighborhood. To address this problem, the DRPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Philadelphia City Council reached agreement on a solution that would take trucks away from residential streets.
The new ramps connect Delaware Expressway (I-95) with a newly revitalized commercial area along Aramingo Avenue, which parallels I-95 through the area. After a decade of traffic and environmental studies, work began on the new ramps in 1997. The I-95 / Aramingo Avenue interchange, which was built and paid for by PennDOT, was completed in December 1999.
The project extended the "ramps-to-nowhere" at EXIT 26, which were originally intended for the Pulaski Expressway (PA 90), to Aramingo Avenue. PennDOT plans to extend the ramps to Torresdale Avenue via a connection to Adams Avenue, with construction scheduled to begin after 2005. Currently, the I-95 / Betsy Ross Bridge Connector ends at an at-grade stub-end just past the Aramingo Avenue ramps. (However, the mainline of the Betsy Ross Bridge approach, which was planned to continue straight over I-95, does not connect directly to Aramingo Avenue. The mainline approach ends in an elevated stub-end about 100 yards before it reaches I-95.)
THE BRIDGE TODAY: According to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the Betsy Ross Bridge carries approximately 45,000 vehicles (AADT) across the Delaware River each day. Traffic counts have been suppressed by the canceled extensions of the NJ 90 Freeway to the east (which was to have connected the bridge to I-295 and the New Jersey Turnpike), and of the Pulaski Expressway to the west.
In October 1992, one-way toll collection began on the westbound lanes, leaving the eastbound direction toll-free. On December 18, 1999, the Betsy Ross Bridge joined the EZ-Pass regional toll collection network.
To improve safety, the DRPA installed a permanent concrete barrier along the roadway median in the fall of 2000. As part of the improvement project, the DRPA changed the existing roadway configuration from eight lanes (four in each direction) without shoulders, to six lanes (three in each direction) with shoulders on the outside.
In August 2009, the DRPA announced plans to install two westbound high-speed EZ-Pass lanes by the end of 2010. The new lanes would be the first to be installed on a DRPA crossing and enable motorists to travel through the toll plaza at 45 MPH.
These 2000 photos show the westbound approach (left photo) and the main truss span (right photo) of the Betsy Ross Bridge. Since these photos were taken, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) added a concrete median barrier. (Photos by Jim K. Georges.)
Type of bridge: Construction started: Opened to traffic: Length of main span: Length of each side span: Length of main and side spans: Total length of bridge and approaches: Width of bridge: Width of roadway: Number of traffic lanes: Highest point of structure above mean high water: Clearance at center above mean high water: Structural steel used in bridge and approaches: Foundation type: Cost of original structure:
The Betsy Ross Bridge should receive a new designation: I-695. The new I-695 will continue east along an extended NJ 90 Freeway to I-295 and the New Jersey Turnpike near Mount Laurel. To the west, I-695 should be extended past I-95 to an extended Roosevelt Expressway (US 1), along the route of the once-planned Pulaski Expressway (PA 90).
SOURCES: "Tacony Span 'Obsolete,' New Bridge Is Asked," The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/11/1955); "Loop Highways To Cut Tie-Ups Urged for Area" by James P. McFadden, The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/22/1957);"New Delair Bridge Site OK'd by Three Camden Lawmakers," The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/05/1964); "Ground Broken at Bridesburg for High Bridge" by Merrie Spaeth, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/01/1969); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); "Report on the Status of the Federal-Aid Highway Program," Committee on Public Works, U.S. Senate (1970); "Will Bridge Be All Trussed Up but Have No Place To Go?" by Robert Fensterer, The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/18/1971); "Ross, Barry Bridges Proposed," Philadelphia Daily News (1/16/1973); "Betsy Ross Bridge To Open in 1976," Keystone Motorist-Keystone Automobile Club (February 1976); "Delaware Bridge Opens May 1," The New York Times (3/20/1976); "Byrne Is Heckled at Opening of Bridge" by Donald Janson, The New York Times (5/01/1976); "In Search of a Better Way On and Off the Betsy Ross," The Philadelphia Inquirer (6/18/1983); "Neighborhoods Hope Ramps Lead to Peace" by Maria Panaritis, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/30/1998); "Betsy Ross Bridge Lanes To Close for Several Months," The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/03/2000); "On Betsy Ross, EZ-Pass To Get Even Easier" by Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/19/2009); Delaware River Port Authority; New Jersey Department of Transportation; Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; Scott Oglesby; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith; Rush Wickes.
NJ 90 and I-695 shields by Ralph Herman. Betsy Ross Bridge shield by Delaware River Port Authority. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.