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This 2001 photo shows the Burlington-Bristol Bridge (PA 413-NJ 413) from the New Jersey shoreline. Plans to replace the two-lane lift span with a six-lane high-level span have been presented in recent decades, only to meet with intense opposition. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

LINKING TWO HISTORIC RIVER TOWNS: Beginning in the 1700's, the Doron family operated a ferry between the industrial towns of Bristol and Burlington. The ferry, whose charter had been granted by Queen Anne, operated continuously under family ownership for two centuries. However, the ferry often shut down during inclement weather.

In 1927, business interests Bristol and Burlington proposed construction of a lift span across Delaware River. Joining the business interests in support of a bridge between Burlington County and Bucks County were agricultural interests who sought a direct route from farms in South Jersey to Pennsylvania.

The proposed Burlington-Bristol Bridge, which was to accommodate vessels bound for nearby factories, was to be constructed across Burlington Island, approximately one mile upstream from the site of the present bridge. Specifically, the bridge termini were to be located at Market Street in Bristol, and St. Mary Street in Burlington. The original plan called for a five-span structure between Burlington and Burlington Island (one of which was to be a 300-foot-long lift span), and a three-span structure between Burlington Island and Bristol.

The U.S. War Department granted permission to the Burlington-Bristol Bridge Company in 1929, following initial opposition from the operators of the Burlington-Bristol Ferry. Because of the proximity of the original location to the Keystone Flying Field, the location of the proposed bridge was moved downstream to Maple Beach (on the Bristol side) and Reed Street (on the Burlington side).

BUILDING THE BRIDGE: Construction of the bridge began on April 1, 1930. The Burlington-Bristol Bridge Company hired Ash-Howard, Needles and Tammen as consulting engineers for the project.

The vertical lift span was considered a modern design when it was built. When the lift span is lifted, it provides a clearance of 138 feet, high enough for the tallest vessels of the time to pass. The lifting mechanism is propelled by two 80-horsepower electric motors, hoisting the 540-foot-long main span - the longest of its type when it was built (and exceeding the length of the longest lift span by 200 feet) - in two minutes. Flanking the lift span are two 200-foot-long through-truss side spans, and two approaches measuring approximately 1,500 feet long. The bridge, which carries one lane of traffic in each direction on a 24-foot-wide roadway, was to be part of a "belt line" highway proposed by the Regional Planning Federation (the forerunner to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission).

The bridge opened to traffic on May 1, 1931, after only 13 months of construction. When the bridge opened, cars paid 35 cents to cross the span.

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT: In 1948, the Burlington County Bridge Commission purchased the Burlington-Bristol Bridge Company as part of a $12.4 million bond issue, and lowered the car toll to 30 cents (and later to 25 cents). All tolls went toward paying off the bond issue. The three-member agency ran into trouble in 1952, when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the purchase was illegal, and ordered the return of $3 million in profit earned since 1948. Subsequently, the Commission lowered the toll on the bridge to a nickel.

In the early 1980's, the Burlington County Bridge Commission raised the toll on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to 25 cents. This was done not only to close the toll differential, but also to fund necessary rehabilitation on the (then-) half-century-old crossing.

Part of PA 413 and NJ 413, the Burlington-Bristol Bridge carries approximately 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT), and serves mostly local traffic between US 13 on the Pennsylvania side and US 130 on the New Jersey side. Tolls are collected on the Burlington side of the bridge. In August 2001, the Burlington County Bridge Commission approved the installation of the EZ-Pass electronic toll system on the Burlington-Bristol and Tacony-Palmyra bridges. The installation of EZ-Pass on the two spans, part of the commission's $45 million capital improvement plan, took place in early 2002.

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 over mean high water (closed position):

Clearance over mean high water (open position):

Vertical lift
April 1, 1930
May 1, 1931
540 feet
200 feet
940 feet
3,144 feet
30 feet
24 feet
2 lanes
220 feet
35 feet

138 feet

REPLACING THE BURLINGTON-BRISTOL BRIDGE: In 1963, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) recommended the construction of a new high-level span near the site of the existing Burlington-Bristol Bridge. The highway bridge, which was to connect I-95 near Bristol with I-295 near Mount Holly, was soon adopted in plans developed by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and other agencies. The proposed connecting highway was to be part of an outer bypass of the northern suburbs.

Since the bridge was not within the jurisdiction of the DRPA - it was north of the Philadelphia city line - the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) developed plans for the proposed span. However, this drew immediate opposition from the Burlington County Bridge Commission, which owned the existing Burlington-Bristol span, and whose other span (the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge) was threatened by the then-proposed Betsy Ross Bridge. The Burlington-Bristol Bridge Commission responded by developing plans for its own replacement span; the DRJTBC retorted by saying that the county's plans were "a waste of time and money."

The Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) added the proposed replacement bridge and the connecting expressway  - Interstate 895 - to the Interstate highway system in 1968. Since the bridge and connecting highway were part of the Interstate system, no tolls were to be charged on the bridge. This ran counter to plans by the Burlington County Bridge Commission to charge a 20-cent toll on the new span.

In 1971, the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey unveiled alternative plans for the new Burlington-Bristol Bridge. The following two designs were proposed for the new six-lane bridge:

  • A multiple-span, box-girder bridge with a main span of 500 feet and a vertical clearance of 135 feet.

  • A cable-stay bridge with a main span of 1,000 feet and a vertical clearance of 135 feet.

Early on, community groups feared that the proposed expressway would tear through the established communities of Bristol and Burlington. Concerns were also raised that the proposed I-895 would benefit development interests that were tied to New Jersey politicians. During public hearings held during 1972 and 1973, the NJDOT and PennDOT presented two alternative route alignments: the "green (northern) corridor" through mostly residential-zoned and park areas via Burlington Island, and the "red (southern) corridor" through industrial-zoned areas.

In 1973, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the successor agency to the BPR, selected the "red corridor" for I-895. Two years later, Governor Brendan Byrne of New Jersey signed a bill authorizing construction of the bridge and its approaches. However, Governor Milton Shapp of Pennsylvania objected to the new bridge until provision was made for a connection to I-95 in Bristol. In response, the Burlington County Bridge Commission adopted a resolution that they would be responsible for building the I-895 connection to I-95.

The new I-895 was originally scheduled for completion by 1978, and its cost was estimated at $84 million. Traffic projections were estimated at 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT) by 1980, rising to 65,000 vehicles per day by 1993. After a decade of debate, the NJDOT and PennDOT canceled I-895 and the replacement Burlington-Bristol Bridge. In 1981, the two states traded in the $180 million in Interstate funds for mass transit projects in New Jersey, and highway projects in southeast Pennsylvania.

REVIVING THE BRIDGE BATTLE: In 1987, the Republican-run Burlington County Bridge Commission, which operates the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, revived plans to construct a new $165 million fixed span to replace the existing bridge. The replacement bridge had the support of many residents on both sides of the Delaware River, but was opposed by the Democratic mayors of Bristol and Burlington, who feared that the bridge approaches would destroy homes and businesses. However, no specific mention of reviving I-895 was made in this proposal.

In December 1988, the engineering consultant to the Burlington County Bridge Commission recommended the replacement of the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, arguing that a new span would offer motorists safer, wider lanes, would eliminate delays caused by bridge openings, and would alleviate traffic congestion. An engineering consultant hired by the city of Burlington disagreed with the need for a new bridge. Bridge proponents received another setback when PennDOT announced that it would not support the proposed bridge and its approaches.

The bridge battle finally was decided in the polls on November 6, 1990, when Burlington County voters narrowly defeated the proposed replacement for the Burlington-Bristol Bridge.

SOURCES: "Burlington Bridge Hearing Scheduled," The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/21/1927); "Opening of a New Span Across the Delaware Next Month Links Two Historic River Towns," The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (4/17/1931); "Two States To Mark Opening of Bridge," The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/26/1931); "Burlington-Bristol Span Opened for Traffic," The Philadelphia Inquirer (5/02/1931); "Richman Signals New Round in Row Over Bridge," The Phildaelphia Inquirer (7/13/1964); "Board Seeks Local Reaction on Span Plans," The Philadelphia Inquirer (2/11/1971); "Burlington Officials Approve Plan for New Bristol Bridge," The Philadelphia Inquirer (2/25/1971); "Plan To Replace Bristol Span Called Time, Money Waste" by Richard V. Sabatini, The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/01/1971); "Interstate 895: Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration, New Jersey Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1973); "Bridge Access Road Is Approved" by Francis M. Lordan, The Phliadelphia Inquirer (12/12/1975); "New Burlington-Bristol Span OK'd," Philadelphia Daily News (12/23/1975); "Panel OK's Use of Road Funds," The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/17/1981); New Jersey Transportation Plan, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1981); "Commission Pushes for New Bridge" by Douglas A. Campbell, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/02/1990); "The Bridge Is a Controversy with a History" by Douglas A. Campbell, The Philadelphia Inquirer (10/28/1990); "Crossing the Century in 20th Century Style" by Tom Engelman, The Courier-Post (2/01/2000); "Improving Operational and Structural Performance of the Burlington-Bristol Bridge" by Dan Kramer, Nate Dubbs, Tom Golecki, Jim Gardner, and Kyle Kessler, Drexel University (2007); Burlington County Bridge Commission; Lee Taylor.

  • PA 413, NJ 413, and I-895 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

BURLINGTON-BRISTOL BRIDGE LINKS:

BURLINGTON-BRISTOL BRIDGE CURRENT CONDITIONS:

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