The Reedy Point Bridge carries DE Route 9 over the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal in New Castle County, Delaware.
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal History
A survey of possible water routes across the Delmarva Peninsula was conducted in 1764 as a way to shorten the shipping distance by nearly 300 miles between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Such a canal would include 14 locks to connect the Elk River at Welch Point, Maryland and the Christina River in Delaware. Construction was halted in 1806 over a lack of funds. 3 4
The canal company was reorganized in 1822 and new surveys determined that more than $2 million in funding would be required to resume construction. 3 4 The states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware purchased $175,000 in stock, while the federal government invested $450,000. The remainder was subscribed by the public.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided two senior officers to help determine a canal route, advising a route with four locks extending from the Back Creek Branch of the Elk River in Maryland to Newbold’s Landing Harbor (today’s Delaware City) in Delaware. Canal construction resumed in April 1824 and the new Chesapeake & Delaware Canal opened to marine traffic in 1829 at the cost of $3.5 million. 2 3 4 The new 14-mile waterway featured a uniform depth of 10 feet and a width of 66 feet. Crossings of the canal included a covered bridge at Summit and three wooden swing bridges.
The advent of larger and deeper-draft vessels could not pass through the restricting locks by the turn of the 20th century. 3 4 Coupled with the advent of the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad, traffic along the canal began to decline which brought a downward trend in profits for the canal operators who gave little thought to enlarging and deepening the canal until President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a commission in 1906 to report on the feasibility of converting the canal into a larger—and free waterway.
The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal was acquired by the federal government for $2.5 million, which included six bridges plus a railroad crossing owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. 3 Responsibility for operating and maintaining the canal was assigned to the Corps Wilmington District.
Work to convert the canal into a sea-level operation began in the mid-1920s with a projected cost of $10 million. 3 4 It included relocating the eastern entrance of the canal to Reedy Point, Delaware, adding two stone jetties at Reedy Point, removing all of the locks, deepening and enlarging the canal, and replacing all of the bridges with five vertical lift spans. The new canal, with a uniform depth of 12 feet and a width of 90 feet, opened in May 1927.
Even after the new sea-level canal opened, plans were already underway for further expansion as the sizes of ships that flowed through continued to increase. The Philadelphia District took over operation of the canal in 1933, and between 1935 and 1938, the canal was enlarged to a uniform depth of 27 feet and a width of 250 feet at the cost of $13 million. 3 4 The project also included expanding the federal navigation channel in the Upper Chesapeake Bay for 26 miles from the Elk River to Pooles Island to a depth of 27 feet and a width of 400 feet.
The dramatic growth in traffic along the C&D Canal soon outpaced capacity, with accidents and one-way traffic restrictions further straining the canal’s capabilities. 3 Between 1938 and 1950, eight ships had collided with bridges causing catastrophic failures and fatalities. In 1954, the United States Congress authorized an expansion of the canal channel to a uniform depth of 35 feet and a width of 450 feet, with the improvements taking place between 1962 and 1968. 1 4
Reedy Point Bridge History
The earliest crossing at the eastern entrance to the canal was a swing bridge along 5th Street in Delaware City. 6 The enlargement and conversion of the canal into a sea-level operation in the 1920s required the construction of new lift bridges, which involved the relocation of the canal south of Delaware City. A Pratt through truss was constructed in 1924-26 5 by the Phoenix Bridge Company, which featured 175-feet of horizontal clearance and 140-feet of vertical clearance for vessels. 9 The new Reedy Point Bridge opened to traffic in September 1926. 8
In 1962, the Corps suggested the closure and demolition of the Reedy Point Bridge as part of a project to modernize and widen the canal. 7 10 The crossing would be replaced by new connecting routes to the St. Georges Bridge, but the proposal was greatly protested by the local community and the state as it would overburden St. Georges Bridge with traffic. It was ultimately decided to construct a new two-lane high-level crossing.
Construction on the substructure for the new Reedy Point Bridge began in December 1965 by Cayuga Construction Company of New York City. 10 Superstructure erection followed in October 1966 by the John F. Beasley Company of Dallas, Texas, and the Novo Industrial Corporation of Chicago. The new crossing, which included a total length of 10,000 feet, a channel span of 600 feet, two anchor spans of 300 feet each, and a vertical clearance of 135 feet for vessels, was dedicated to a crowd of 250 people on November 22, 1968.
- State: Delaware
- Route: DE Route 9
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 8,492 feet
- Main Span Length: 600 feet
- Deck Width: 25.5 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Chesapeake and Delaware Canal: Navigating the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.” BlueSeas, 2015.
- Appletons’ annual cyclopedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 378.
- “The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- “C&D Canal Just a Dream 307 Years Ago.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 30 Nov. 1961, p. 33.
- “Rush Work on Canal Bridge.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 10 May 1926, p. 8.
- “2 Entrances for Canal at Del. City.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 16 May 1927, pp. 1-2.
- Davis, Ned. “Canal Bridge Elimination Is Opposed.” Morning News [Wilmington], 8 Nov. 1962, p. 19.
- “Tomato Prices Again Jump.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 16 Sept 1926, p. 13.
- “Two Canal Bridges Nearing Completion.” News Journal [Wilmington], 25 Aug. 1926, p. 3.
- “New Reedy Point Bridge over canal is dedicated.” Morning News [Wilmington], 25 Nov. 1968, p. 2.