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This 2003 photo was taken from the southbound span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge (I-295 and US 40). (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

FULFILLING A LONG-SOUGHT DREAM: Since the 1920's, residents of Delaware and New Jersey had pressured officials for a fixed crossing between southern New Jersey and the Wilmington-New Castle area of Delaware. With the successful opening of the new Delaware River (Benjamin Franklin) Bridge some 30 miles upstream in Philadelphia, such a crossing appeared feasible. The proposed Delaware-New Jersey span was estimated to cost $12 million. As an interim measure, the two states established a ferry service between Pennsville, New Jersey and New Castle, Delaware (near the site of the current bridge) in 1926.

However, the pro-bridge forces faced two decades of opposition. First, the Philadelphia port authorities and commercial organizations fought against the bridge in Congress. These groups believed that erection of bridge would be an impediment to shipping, since all ships bound for the Philadelphia-Camden area would have to pass under the span. Specifically, the Atlantic Deep Waterways Association said the bridge piers and clearances would pose a "menace to navigation." Second, the War Department had concerns that the proposed crossing would be seaward of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It would not only be vulnerable to attack in the event of war, but also block access to the Navy Yard.

Meanwhile, the explosive growth in postwar vehicular traffic resulting in hours-long delays on both sides of the Delaware River provided ammunition for the pro-bridge forces, which ultimately won the two-decade-long battle for the bridge. From the archives of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce:

The public demand for this bridge is steadily increasing, and its construction is of vital importance to the ever-increasing local and long-haul vehicular traffic along the Atlantic Seaboard. This traffic serves commerce and business, both in war and in peace. The building of the bridge appears as a public necessity in the full development of the highway system along the East Coast, and it is believed that this necessity should be met as promptly as possible. Both the War and Navy departments have recently filed reports indicating that they will interpose no objections to the proposed facility. The Federal Works Agency has also reported favorably to the proposal.

In 1945, the state highway departments of Delaware and New Jersey authorized construction of a Delaware River crossing between New Castle and Pennsville. On July 13, 1946, Congress authorized construction of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Construction of the first Delaware Memorial Bridge span began on February 1, 1949.

This 1951 photo shows the Delaware Memorial Bridge nearing completion. (Photo by Keystone Motorist-Aero Services Corporation.)

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Designed by famed bridge designer Othmar Ammann, the Delaware Memorial Bridge held true to the design standards, such as deep stiffening trusses and streamlined towers, that characterized his other postwar works including the Walt Whitman Bridge (opened in 1957), the Throgs Neck Bridge (opened in 1961) and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (opened in 1964).

From tower to tower, the main span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge measures 2,150 feet long. Including approaches, the bridge measures approximately two and one-half miles long. The two 4,100-foot-long main cables are 20 inches in diameter. Each cable is composed of 19 strands, and each strand is made up of 436 separate 3/16-inch-diameter steel wires. Together, approximately 12,000 miles of wire were spun for the span. The main cables are spun across the bridge's two 417-foot-high towers, which together help suspend the roadway 188 feet above the Delaware River. As required by the Secretaries of the Army and Navy, the bridge was constructed with a high clearance to allow even the tallest ships to enter the port of Philadelphia-Camden and the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The roadway accommodated four 12-foot-wide traffic lanes, two lanes in each direction.

The bridge foundation on the Delaware side measures 95 feet by 221 feet, while the foundation on the New Jersey side measures 99 feet by 225 feet. The foundations were first prefabricated in the New Jersey shipyard and towed downriver. Next came the concrete pour for each caisson - approximately 27,000 tons - that lasted seven days, the longest continuous pour until that time. The foundations were submerged 70 feet into the Delaware side of the river, and 110 feet into the New Jersey side.

The construction of the anchorages was also massive: both anchorages each required 23,200 tons of concrete. Since the anchorages were also built in the Delaware River, their placement required the construction of two cofferdams, each measuring 100 feet by 225 feet. The cofferdams were sunk 70 feet below the low water mark.

On April 22, 1951, the steel trusses from each side of the bridge were connected, paving the way for roadway construction. While the deck paving was underway, work on the Delaware and New Jersey approaches was underway.

The original Delaware Memorial Bridge opened on August 16, 1951, at a cost of $44 million and four lives. When it opened, the bridge, which featured the sixth-longest main suspension span in the world, was named the most beautiful large steel span of 1951 by the American Institute of Steel Construction. Governor Driscoll of New Jersey and Governor Carvel of Delaware dedicated the new bridge to the World War II dead of their respective states.

LEFT: The governors of New Jersey and Delaware exchange formalities at the opening of the Delaware Memorial Bridge on August 16, 1951. TOP: This 1957 photo shows the single-span Delaware Memorial Bridge. (Photos by Delaware River and Bay Authority.)

BUILT FOR THE EXPRESSWAY ERA: Including approaches, the Delaware Memorial Bridge measures two and one-half miles long. Like other postwar bridge projects, the main span and approaches were designed for the expressway era. On the New Jersey side, the bridge connects to the New Jersey Turnpike, I-295 and US 40. On the Delaware side, the bridge connects to I-95 and I-495, among other arterial routes. A three-foot-wide steel median barrier separated opposing traffic flows.

Three months after the new bridge was dedicated, the 118-mile-long New Jersey Turnpike was opened to traffic. Together with the turnpike, the bridge, which had a 75-cent toll when it opened, provided a new bypass from the Northeast to the South. By 1963, the toll complex was extended south along the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95) to Baltimore. A third toll road that was to connect the Delaware Memorial Bridge with the Chesapeake Bay-William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge, the "Maryland Expressway" (which was to parallel US 301), was never constructed.

The Delaware Memorial Bridge was an immediate success. When it opened in 1951, engineers estimated that 3.6 million vehicles would use the four-lane bridge. By 1952, annual traffic volume had already reached 6.7 million vehicles, and by the 1960's, more than 15 million vehicles crossed the bridge each year. With bottlenecks growing on both sides of the Delaware River, officials at the newly created Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) authorized construction of a second suspension bridge at the Pennsville-New Castle site.

THEY APPEAR THE SAME, BUT LOOK CLOSELY: Construction of the second Delaware Memorial Bridge, located 250 feet north of the original span, began in mid-1964. To the naked eye, the second span was identical to the existing span. The new bridge was constructed with the same total length of 3,650 feet (a 2,150-foot-long main span and 750-foot-long side spans) as the original bridge. However, there were the following differences in design, construction methods and safety:

  • The original bridge was constructed with four 12-foot-wide lanes. Because the cars of the era were wider, the new span was constructed with four 13-foot-wide lanes.

  • A new signal system was installed to control traffic so that traffic could be switched from lane to lane. The system could also allow for reverse traffic flow in certain lanes.

  • The lighting system installed on the new bridge was brighter than the one installed on the original bridge.

  • On the original span, sidewalks were open gratings. Sidewalks on the new bridge were constructed of solid concrete, adding structural strength.

The second Delaware Memorial Bridge, which was constructed at a cost of $77 million, was dedicated on September 12, 1968 to the soldiers of New Jersey and Delaware who lost their lives in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Once the new bridge opened, the original span was closed for 15 months to bring it up to the same standards as its newer counterpart. During the reconstruction period, the old steel median barrier was removed, and the four lanes were widened to 12 feet, nine inches.

When the original bridge reopened to traffic on December 29, 1969, it now carried four lanes of northbound traffic. The new bridge, which had carried two lanes of traffic in each direction during rehabilitation of the original span, now carried four lanes of southbound traffic.

A CLOSE CALL: On July 9, 1969, not long after the completion of the twin span, the oil tanker Regent Liverpool operated by Texaco struck the fender system protecting the tower piers of the bridge. Although the bridge itself suffered no structural damage, the cost to repair the fenders totaled $1 million.

LEFT: Cable spinning on the second Delaware Memorial Bridge is shown in this 1967 photo. RIGHT: The second Delaware Memorial Bridge nears completion in this 1968 photo. (Photos by Delaware River and Bay Authority.)

THE DELAWARE MEMORIAL BRIDGE TODAY: The two Delaware Memorial Bridges stand as the world's longest twin (side-by-side) suspension spans. Taken individually, the 2,150-foot-long main suspension spans are the 26th longest in the world. According to the DRBA, approximately 90,000 vehicles per day (AADT) cross this important link in the main artery serving the Boston-to-Washington megalopolis.

There is an interesting state boundary issue at the site of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Phil Case, New Jersey contributor to phillyroads.com, provides the following detail on the New Jersey-Delaware border:

In most cases of river boundaries between states, the state line is located in the middle of the river. However, Delaware's northern state boundary was originally fixed as a specified 12-mile radius from New Castle. That is why Delaware's northern boundary looks like a semi-circle, because it is one. The line can be extended into the river, and court cases long ago established that the state of Delaware controls the whole width of the Delaware River, up to the low-tide level on the New Jersey shoreline. The bridge spans have small signs on their eastern ends marking the Delaware-New Jersey border.

In 1992, the DRBA reconstructed the New Castle toll plaza to permit one-way toll collection in the southbound direction. (Northbound motorists no longer pay a toll.) On July 18, 2001, the DRBA implemented the EZ-Pass electronic toll collection system at the New Castle toll plaza. With the expansion of the EZ-Pass system, motorists could travel between Maryland and Massachusetts without having to stop to pay for tolls.

Between 2003 and 2008, the DRBA plans to spend $13 million to resurface the bridge decks, refurbish the expansion joints and bearing assemblies, upgrade the electrical system, and replace the elevators in all four towers.

THE WAR MEMORIAL: Each year since 1951, when the first Delaware Memorial Bridge opened to traffic, special ceremonies have been held on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day at the bridge's War Memorial area to commemorate the sacrifices of U.S. war veterans. Located in New Castle, Delaware, the War Memorial area contains a lasting wall with the names of 15,000 service men and women who were killed in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. There is also a reflective pool and a "soldier statue" erected in their memory.

LEFT: This 1999 photo shows the Delaware Memorial Bridge from the DuPont plant in Pennsville, New Jersey. (Photo by Steve Anderson.) RIGHT: This 1998 photo shows the southern approach to the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, Delaware. Part of I-295 and US 40, the bridge serves as an important artery in the Northeastern megalopolis. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

To eliminate confusion among motorists traveling on the East Coast, the Delaware Memorial Bridge, as well as the length of the New Jersey Turnpike north to EXIT 6, should be re-designated I-95. New "local" and "express" designations for I-95 should be assigned as follows:

  • Beginning in New Castle, Delaware, the "express" I-95 would comprise of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the current I-295 approaches, and the length of the New Jersey Turnpike north to EXIT 6.

  • A "local" I-95, would serve Wilmington and Philadelphia along the existing I-495 through Delaware, and through the existing I-95 alignment (Delaware Expressway) in Pennsylvania. It would then cross the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge (I-276) and rejoin the "express" I-95 at EXIT 6 of the New Jersey Turnpike.

(Thanks to phillyroads.com and misc.transport.road contributor Chris Blaney for the recommendation.)

Type of bridge:
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Length of each side span:
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Width of roadway (both spans):
Number of traffic lanes (each span):
Height of towers above mean high water:
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Number of cables (each bridge):
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Suspension
June 15, 1948
August 16, 1951
April 15, 1964
September 12, 1968
2,150 feet
750 feet
3,650 feet
13,200 feet
70 feet
52 feet
4 lanes (8 lanes total)
417 feet
188 feet
2 cables
4,100 feet
20 inches
8,284 wires
Caisson
108,000 cubic yards
92,800 cubic yards
$44,000,000
$77,000,000

SOURCES: "The Wilmington Bridge" by J. Hampton Moore, The Philadelphia Inquirer (2/04/1929); "Toll Bridge Across the Delaware River Near Wilmington, Delaware," U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce (1946); "Delaware Bridge Nears Completion" by William G. Weart, The New York Times (4/22/1951); "The New Bridge" by C. Edward Nicodemus, The Philadelphia Inquirer (5/13/1951); "Delaware Bridge To Open" by Kalman Seigel, The New York Times (8/11/1951); "Delaware Memorial Bridge," Keystone Motorist-Keystone Automobile Club (August 1951); "Big Delaware-New Jersey Bridge Dedicated as Memorial to Heroes" by Kalman Seigel, The New York Times (8/16/1951); "High Road from the Hudson to the Delaware" by Paul J. C. Friedlander, The New York Times (11/25/1951); "A Delaware Span To Open" by Joseph C. Ingraham, The New York Times (9/07/1968); Great American Bridges and Dams by Donald C. Jackson, Preservation Press-John Wiley and Sons (1988); Engineers of Dreams by Henry Petroski, Vintage Books-Random House (1995); "Overhaul of I-295 Gets Rolling" by Prashant Gopal, The Wilmington News-Journal (7/18/2000); "Caution: EZ-Pass Confusion Ahead" by Prashant Gopal, The Wilmington News-Journal (7/08/2001); Delaware River and Bay Authority; Delaware Department of Transportation; New Jersey Department of Transportation; Chris Blaney; Phil Case; Raymond C. Martin; Alex Nitzman; Sandy Smith; Christof Spieler; Jeff Taylor; Stéphane Theroux; Rush Wickes; William F. Yurasko.

  • I-295 and US 40 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Delaware Memorial Bridge shield photo by Steve Anderson.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

DELAWARE MEMORIAL BRIDGE LINKS:

DELAWARE MEMORIAL BRIDGE CURRENT CONDITIONS:

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