Betsy Ross Bridge in Philly area to get open road tolling

August 25, 2009

Betsy Ross Bridge about 4 miles, 7km up the Delaware River from the Philadelphia central business district will be one of the first bridges in the northeast to get open road tolling (ORT). Stantec have been given a $350k contract to manage design of the conversion of an existing 10-lane toll plaza to two ORT lanes and seven stop-to-pay or slow toll lanes.

Delaware River Port Authority's CEO John Matheussen told us the schedule is for procurement of a contractor early in the new year with the project to be completed in the spring of 2011.

Second to DRJTBC

The first open road tolling on the Delaware River will be  in northern New Jersey on the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission's toll points on I-78 and I-80.

A contracts for I-80 was awarded earlier this summer and one for I-78 is not far off. Both are due to open in the summer of 2010.


Matheussen says open road tolling is a way to improve service to motorists, and DRPA chose the Betsy Ross Bridge to be their first ORT bridge because it is the least challenging and the least costly.

Commodore Barry Bridge downriver of Philadelphia will likely go ORT once the Ross bridge is done, and lessons learned from that conversion, he said.

DRPA's high traffic bridges connecting into downtown Philadelphia, the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman will stay with slow single lane tolling for the foreseeable future.

Ross Bridge is the least heavily trafficked of DRPA's four bridges with around only 36k vehicle trips/day average. Tolling is into Pennsylvania only, a conversion to one-directional tolling having been done in 1992. The present toll system was installed in the 1990s at around the same time E-ZPass electronic tolling was introduced.

Matheussen says they will watch the progress of cashless tolling elsewhere, but they have quite a few more years of useful life to get out of their late-1990s toll systems.

"We're not ready for (cashless) but we'll be watching to see how the (toll) industry progresses."

The Ross Bridge toll plaza was widened in the early 1990s in preparation for one-way tolling. That widening means no new pavement is required for the ORT conversion. Three toll lanes and booths will be removed to make room for two ORT lanes on the inside.

Straight shot

"It's a straight shot in two senses. There's more than a mile from the nearest interchange so no merge/diverge issues, and the approach is straight," Matheussen said.

The Whitman and Franklin bridges by contrast have entries and exits close to the toll plaza making open road tolling much more problematic. Those bridges and the Barry Bridge downriver also do tidal flow with a moveable barrier to allocate an extra lane in the peak direction, complicating ORT.

Ross bridge has a fixed 3 lanes each direction, both on the bridge itself and on the approaches. The approaches are signed for 55mph (89km/hr) and the bridge for 45mph (72kn/hr). The ORT lanes will be signed for 45mph (72km/hr).

Regular single E-ZPass-Only toll lanes on the Ross Bridge are signed for 15mph (24km/hr). At present they usually operate three E-ZPass-Only lanes.

Traffic not increasing in the Philadelphia area

Traffic is not increasing much in the Philadelphia area because the population is stable. The Ross Bridge has been losing traffic somewhat, records show.

Ross Bridge traffic which is now at the lowest point since 1999.

Competition from lower priced bridge upriver

It faces competition from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (TPB) 2.2 miles, 3.5km upriver.

Operated by the Burlington County Bridge Commission the TPB Bridge has toll rates half those applying on the Ross Bridge.

DRPA which despite the 'port' in its name has no port, makes $215m a year or 90% of its revenues from the four toll bridges, but it supports a heavy lossmaking rail transit line called PATCO into south Jersey.

The County Bridge Commission by contrast has no transit to subsidize.

BACKGROUND: The bridge is named after the woman credited with the design of the US flag. The present Ross Bridge replaces a ferry. Its ramps come off I-95 on its northern side. It was originally planned to be linked to a higher standard highway network including to the north US1 in Lawncrest/Tacony Creek Park area and to Ft Washington Exwy (PA309), but that expressway peters out in the Wyncote-Elkins Park area.

On the east side in New Jersey the Ross approaches join NJ73 as an expressway, but NJ73 is only a surface arterial leading to I-295.

Ross Bridge's 6-lanes opened in 1976 and provide for the higher traffic volumes from connections that were never built, and don't look likely to be built.

The bridge is a through-truss design 8485ft, 2.6km long with a navigation span of 400ft, 122m. Curb to curb the bridge is 27.4m 90ft wide, providing space for breakdown shoulder lanes as well as 2x3 travel lanes.

The toll is $4 for cars, after an increase of  $1 last September. Tolls will increase another $1 Sept 2010 and be adjusted by the consumer price index every two years subsequently.

5-axle tractor trailers pay $30.

Tacony-Palmyra offers motorists a cheaper ride, and for trips from New Jersey into Philadelphia, a several minutes longer drive. Open road tolling on the Ross bridge should help it offer a further edge in service over its county rival upriver.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-08-24 CORRECTIONS 2009-08-25 13:00

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