INSIDE DRPA & PATCO:
The Iconic Ben Franklin Bridge Turns 95
The iconic Ben Franklin Bridge officially opened to traffic on July 1, 1926. As the bridge celebrates its 95th anniversary of connecting the region, here are some interesting facts about its history.
- The Ben Franklin Bridge was originally named the “The Delaware River Bridge.”
- The name was changed to the Ben Franklin Bridge on January 17, 1956 -- the 250th birthday of Ben Franklin, when it was renamed in honor of Philadelphia’s favorite Founding Father.
- The other reason for renaming it was to distinguish it from the second Delaware River bridge, which would open the following year — in 1957, the Walt Whitman Bridge opened to traffic. It was New Jersey’s turn to name a bridge after a famous New Jersey native, and the Walt Whitman was the first major U.S. bridge to be named after a poet.
- It took 4.5 years to build.
- The Ben Franklin Bridge is unique in that it manages three modes of transportation: Roadway (cars/trucks/busses); the PATCO Rail line; and a Bike & Pedestrian walkway.
- The Ben Franklin Bridge is a popular image in film and television. You can see it in the opening credits of the cable TV series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and movies such as Rocky, Philadelphia, Twelve Monkeys, National Treasure, and The Italian Job.
Design & Construction:
- The bridge was designed to accommodate six traffic lanes, two tracks for subway/elevated trains, two-track areas for streetcar/trolley operation, and two walkways for pedestrians. The walkways are one of the more popular parts of the bridge for bicycle riders, walkers, and people jogging across the bridge.
- The anchorages had stations built into them to handle passengers using the trolley lines.
- Workers installed an average of 200 rivets per day. Once tower sections were delivered to the bridge site, workers installed 145,000 rivets high above the river. 75% of the rivets were installed off-site. The total number of rivets could be in the neighborhood of 750,000 per tower.
- The Benjamin Franklin Bridge was initially constructed with 70,851 tons of steel. In 1951, additional roadway lanes were created over areas that were reserved for streetcars/trolley operation. As a result of the modification, an additional 6,500 tons of structural steel were added to the bridge.
- The center span is 1,750’ from tower to tower.
- Each side span is 717’ from each tower to each anchorage.
- The bridge is 135’ above the river. The towers are 382’ feet tall.
- The Philadelphia approach to the anchorage is 2,000’ and the Camden approach to the anchorage is 2,800’.
- When opened it opened in 1926, the bridge held the title of world’s longest suspension bridge.
- The bridge toll in 1926 was 0.25 for a car, 0.15 for a horse and rider and 0.30 for a horse-drawn carriage.
- Two opening ceremonies were held for the bridge: the July 1, 1926 ceremony which opened the bridge to 100,000 pedestrians; and a second opening ceremony on Monday, July 5, 1926 for Calvin Coolidge, the President of the United States.
- The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported that the first traffic accident actually occurred before the bridge officially opened. Two individuals ran their car into the back of another car as they were attempting to get ahead in line as the bridge was getting ready to open to vehicles. The driver was fined $25.
Artwork at the bridge:
- Ben Franklin Bridge has a storied history and appreciation with art. These murals will join other public works of art associated with this bridge:
- Winged Victory statues by Leon Hermant that flanked bridge entries
- Decorative ceramic tiles by Enfield Pottery and Tile Works in Springfield, Montgomery County. These tiles depict several modes of transpiration, including boats, airships, steam engines, and submarines.
- The Bolt of Lightning monument by Isamu Noguchi
- Children’s mosaic at Camden Pedestrian Tunnel entrances
- Bridge Decorative Lighting
- Movable barrier machine - better known the “Zipper Machine.”
- Its essential job is to control the traffic flow on the bridge safely.
- Prior to the year 2000, there was no barrier on the Ben Franklin Bridge that separated traffic.
- Three of the four DRPA have movable barriers, except the Betsy Ross Bridge, which has a fixed barrier.
- $1.6 million piece of equipment involves two employees and takes approximately 25-30 minutes to complete across the seven-lane bridge.
- The wall is not dragged from one lane to another on the ground. Each block is connected and lifted about a foot off the ground and moved in the air to its new position before being safely placed back on the ground.
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