This 2001 photo shows the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (PA 73-NJ 73) from the New Jersey shoreline. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
FROM FERRY TO BRIDGE: In the years after World War I, demand rose dramatically on the automobile and passenger ferries crossing the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, near the site of today's Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and between Burlington and Bristol, near the site of today's Burlington-Bristol Bridge. The growing Tacony community in Northeast Philadelphia, along with the Burlington County community of Palmyra, was nearly midway between the two ferries, which were separated by a distance of 20 miles.
To meet the anticipated demand, local business leaders established the Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Company. After spending $90,000 to construct two docks and $100,000 on two ferries (the "Tacony" and the "Palmyra"), the company initiated cross-Delaware operations on May 6, 1922. On the Tacony side, the new ferry was within blocks of two trolley lines, the Market-Frankford elevated line and the Pennsylvania Railroad. On both sides of the ferry, the company forced officials to make improvements to local streets leading to the ferry slips.
The ferry was an immediate success. According to local historian Harry Silcox, the ferry served two goals. The first goal was to provide access to the White Horse Pike for cars going to the New Jersey shore from Northeast Philadelphia. The second was to allow South Jersey farmers in Burlington and Camden counties to get produce to the Frankford, Tacony and Germantown sections of Philadelphia. However, with success came growing delays.
As ferry operations got underway, work had begun on a new suspension bridge connecting Center City Philadelphia with Camden, just eight miles to the south. Charles A. Wright, the founder of the Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Company, had long considered building a span between the two communities. The Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, whose members were being inconvenienced by increasing delays, also recommended construction of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
SEEKING APPROVAL: In August 1926, one month after the new Delaware River (Benjamin Franklin) Bridge opened to traffic, the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company was established, with Wright serving as its president. The bridge was the first approved under the New Jersey Act of 1925, which called for the construction of additional bridges across the Delaware River.
Test borings began in October 1926, and at the conclusion of the test borings three months later, the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company filed an application with the Army Corps of Engineers for a steel arch and bascule span. The company received a boost on January 26, 1927, when President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill to authorize construction of the bridge. Public hearings were held in the spring and summer of 1927, during which commercial interests, river pilots and public officials engaged in discussions on appropriate alignments and clearances. After the meetings, the company made minor design revisions, and on December 31, 1927, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the final design for the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
Two photos taken during construction in 1928 and 1929. LEFT: Construction proceeds on the Palmyra continuous truss span. RIGHT: Construction of the main steel arch span, as shown from the Tacony shoreline. (Photos by Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company.)
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Designed by Rudolph Modjeski, whose previous engineering credits include the Manhattan Bridge and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge consists of eight separate spans, the two most visible of which are the 523-foot-long steel arch span and the 247-foot, 6-inch-long bascule span. On either side of the two main spans are three 232-foot-long continuous steel truss spans. The Tacony approach measures 705 feet, while the Palmyra approach measures 630 feet. Both approaches are continuous plate girder spans, most of which measure 57 feet in length.
As originally constructed, the 38-foot-wide roadway accommodated four lanes of traffic (two outer ten-foot-wide lanes and two inner nine-foot-wide lanes). The roadway has a grade of 3.4 percent on the approach and continuous truss spans, decreasing to a grade of 2.0 percent on the steel arch span.
The main arch truss, which follows a parabolic shape, is braced by a top lateral system in the plane of its top chord, and by a bottom lateral system in the plane of the bottom tie. Braced transverse frames hold the bottom chord points of the arch trusses. On the western end of the arch, the wind loads are carried into the piers from the plane of the bottom tie by two transverse bracing systems. On the eastern end of the arch, the bottom lateral system is carried by a portal for a distance of approximately nine and one-half feet to the pier supports. This was necessary to provide clearance for the bascule counterweight. The arch span provides 64 feet of vertical clearance.
The six continuous truss spans are of half-through construction with top chords ten feet above the crown of the roadway, and with a depth of 23 feet center-to-center of chords, except in the two panels of each span adjacent to each end support, where the bottom chord is lowered to a depth of 32½ feet center-to-center of chords. Lateral bracing against wind and load forces is provided by a diagonal system in the plane of the bottom chords of the trusses.
The double-leaf bascule span, like the continuous truss spans, is of half-through construction with top chords ten feet above the crown of the roadway. The bascule span continues the lateral bracing system of its continuous span counterparts. Powering the bascule span are two rolling lifts, each with a radius of 14 feet. Marine vessels that require more than the 54-foot vertical clearance of the movable span in the normal closed position, must request a bridge opening. At that time, traffic is stopped and the bascule span leaves are raised to permit the passage of the vessel. The bridge has navigation and obstruction lights installed at various locations to warn air and marine traffic of the structure.
Nine main piers make up the substructure of the bridge. The three piers supporting the steel arch and bascule spans were built using pneumatic caissons. On both ends of the bascule span, the piers continue their rise above the roadway. All other piers were constructed using open cofferdams. In order to reach hard rock, construction crews used concrete-filled steel pipes to break through mud, clay and disintegrated rock. Granite facing was used to protect the pier structures, and to protect against danger from passing boats and ice flows, wooden fenders supported upon piles were fastened to the sides of the piers.
Construction of the piers began on February 14, 1928. To expedite construction, cement mixing and storage were floated onsite. Two months later, the American Bridge Company began fabricating parts of the arch, bascule and continuous truss spans at its Trenton plant. As each section was completed, the company shipped these sections on barges down the Delaware River to the bridge site. In November 1928, work began on the two approaches. Temporary railroad spurs were built to assist in constructing the approaches.
The Tacony-Palmyra bascule span is shown in the closed and open positions in these 1931 photos. (Photos by Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company.)
OPENING A NEW ERA FOR NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA: On the morning of August 14, 1929, Modjeski cut a ribbon to officially open the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. That day, thousands of motorists waited in line to pay 35 cents - a dime more than the old ferry - to cross the new bridge.
New investment followed the construction of the bridge into Northeast Philadelphia. During the first six months of 1929, more than $18 million worth of new residential and business construction was started in the immediate area of the bridge.
Harry Silcox, a local historian, described the impact of the bridge's opening as follows:
The significance of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge was that it, along with the Roosevelt Boulevard and the Market Street elevated train to Frankford, opened up the Northeast for settlement on a large scale. The transition was final and clear; no longer would Tacony be considered a community separate from Philadelphia. It was part of the city.
In its first year, traffic counts on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge measured approximately 3,500 vehicles per day (AADT). Within five years, traffic volume on the bridge had doubled. To keep up with this demand, new roads were constructed, while others were improved.
From 1935 to 1945, the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge served as the eastern terminus of the US 422 designation. The former route of US 422 went through Germantown, Hunting Park and Tacony via Germantown Avenue, Mount Pleasant Avenue, Chew Street, Olney Avenue, Tabor Road, Roosevelt Boulevard, and Levick Street to the bridge approach.
THE BURLINGTON COUNTY BRIDGE COMMISSION ERA: In 1948, the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company sold the 19-year-old crossing to the Burlington County Bridge Commission, a three-member-appointed agency that purchased the bridge with a $12.4 million bond issue. Upon the transfer, the toll was reduced to 30 cents, and later, reduced to 25 cents. All proceeds 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.
In 1955, when the Burlington County Bridge Commission lowered the toll to five cents, traffic counts on the "Nickel Bridge" neared 15,000 vehicles per day (AADT). That year, the Army Corps of Engineers called the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge "obsolete" and a hazard for navigation. In the years since the bridge opened, industrial development continued along the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, and the existing movable span impeded both vehicular and river traffic. The Corps recommended replacing the existing bridge with a new high-level fixed span.
Through the years, motorists continued to flock to the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. Drawn by tolls that were significantly lower than those on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, or those on the new Betsy Ross Bridge nearby (which opened in 1976) - two bridges operated by the competing Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) - traffic on the bridge continued to rise. Despite lower tolls, the Burlington County Bridge Commission turned consistent profits (albeit modest), while the DRPA operated with consistent deficits. In the mid-1970's, the DRPA attempted to take over the Burlington County Bridge Commission, and utilize the proceeds from the commission to finance ongoing and future projects.
By 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. By the end of the 1980's, the toll had risen to one dollar.
INCIDENTS ON THE BRIDGE: Over the years, several incidents have closed the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge as follows:
On October 20, 1956, Marie Cini and her two children were on their way home when they were trapped by a barrier on the bridge. As the leaves of the bascule bridge rose, Mrs. Cini's car began to slide down the roadway. Toll collector Richard Schaffer tried to instruct Mrs. Cini to drive through the barriers, but she did not comply. He later pulled the children and Mrs. Cini to safety. The children were treated for minor injuries and Mrs. Cini was treated for shock. The bridge was briefly closed to traffic while workers dislodged Mrs. Cini's car.
During rush hour on July 26, 1967, a giant iron freighter traveling north on the Delaware River struck part of the bridge. The collision stranded about 20,000 motorists for an hour and a half. After a brief inspection that revealed no damage to the span, the bridge was reopened to traffic.
On December 15, 1988, a barge operated by River Enterprises, Inc., crashed into a critical bridge support, causing a one-inch-long crack in the support and damaging several pilings. The impact occurred about 100 feet west of where the drawbridge opens on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. Immediate inspection by divers and engineers determined that the bridge was structurally sound. Nevertheless, to ensure the safety of motorists, the Burlington County Bridge Commission closed the bridge for month to accommodate repairs, which consisted of attaching metal plates and tension bars to absorb stress. While the repair itself cost $60,000, lost tolls and business exceeded $1 million.
The completed Tacony-Palmyra Bridge is shown from the former Tacony ferry slip in this 1931 photo. (Photo by Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company.)
CONNECTIONS TO THE LOCAL ROAD NETWORK: The Tacony approach of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge connects to the west with the local street network, as well as with Cottman Avenue (PA 73), a major north-south route through Northeast Philadelphia. (No direct connection is provided to the nearby Delaware Expressway, or I-95.) The Palmyra approach connects to the east with NJ 73, a four-lane arterial serving the South Jersey suburbs.
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: To better serve the approximately 70,000 vehicles that use the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge each day, the Burlington County Bridge Commission embarked on a $15 million deck replacement project in June 1996. The redesigned deck features new materials such as neoprene latex and epoxy to resist wear, and additional steel reinforcing rods to strengthen the deck. During the 18-month-long project, only one lane was open in each direction.
When the project was completed in December 1997, the roadway was reconfigured with three wider traffic lanes. The new roadway provides two lanes in the westbound toll-paying direction toward Philadelphia (an inside 10-foot-wide lane for cars, and an outside 12-foot-wide lane for trucks), and one 13-foot-wide lane (for use by both cars and trucks) in the eastbound, non-toll direction into New Jersey. A three-foot-wide buffer zone separates lanes of opposing traffic.
In March 2000, the toll on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge was raised to $2.00 in the westbound direction. Proceeds from the toll hike were used to finance a $14 million repainting of the superstructure.
In August 2001, the Burlington County Bridge Commission approved the installation of the EZ-Pass electronic toll system on the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol 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 steel arch span: Length of main bascule 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 (arch span): Clearance at center above mean high water (bascule span): Structural steel used in bridge and approaches: Foundation type: Cost of original structure:
SOURCES: "Tacony-Palmyra Bridge," Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Company (1931); "Tacony Span 'Obsolete,' New Bridge Is Asked," The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/11/1955); "Takeover? Poor Little Bridge To Be Defended" by Rod Nordland, The Philadelphia Inquirer (10/06/1974); "Delaware Span Shut After Tug Accident," The Bergen Record (12/19/1988); "Bridge Commission OK's Three Lanes for Tacony-Palmyra Span" by Rochelle Torres, The Burlington Times (10/02/1997); "Spanning the Years Over the Delaware" by Abbe Klebanoff, The Burlington Times (2/05/1998); "The Tacony-Palmyra Bridge" by Dan Behl, Scott Carver, John Fay, Nick Graff and John O'Donnell, LaSalle College High School (1998); "Auto Tolls Doubled on Two Burlington County Bridges" by Joseph A. Gambardello, The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/01/2000); "Burlington County Bridges To Get EZ-Pass," The Trenton Times (8/16/2001); Burlington County Bridge Commission; Jeff Kitsko; Rush Wickes.
PA 73, NJ 73 and US 422 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.