The Roth Bridge carries the DE Route 1 freeway over the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal near St. Georges, 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
Roth Bridge History
High-speed highways were long proposed to connect Wilmington (and later the Delaware Memorial Bridge) and the Delmarva Peninsula. Provisions were made with the construction of the two-lane Chesapeake City Bridge in the late 1980s that a four-lane Eastern Shore Highway between Elkton and Maryland would eventually be built, necessitating the construction of a parallel crossing. The highway never came to fruition.
Likewise, the Summit Bridge was proposed to be an integral part of a proposed expressway between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The expressway was never completed.
Other proposals, including an attempt to build a north-south extension of the Delaware Turnpike from 1971-78 and two attempts to secure funding to build an interstate highway, also failed. 6 Eventually, the state settled on building a toll road between Wilmington and Dover in 1985, and the proposal qualified as one of six Federal Highway Administration demonstration projects where federal highway funds could be mixed with toll revenue bond financing in 1987. Coined as the US Route 13 “Relief Route”, construction began in early 1990 near Smyrna and the last section was completed in May 2003 at the cost of $900 million. It was designated DE Route 1. 7
Integral to the Relief Route was the construction of a bridge over the C&D Canal which was to have replaced the St. Georges Bridge. The construction contract for the substructure and superstructure was awarded on April 1, 1992, 6 and the new six-lane cable-stayed suspension bridge opened in December 1995 at the cost of $57.9 million. 5 6
The DE Route 1 crossing of the canal was officially named after the late Senator William Roth, Jr. in November 2006. 5 Roth was instrumental in securing funding to build the bridge.
- State: Delaware
- Route: DE Route 1
- Type: Cable-Stay Suspension
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 4,650 feet
- Main Span Length: 750 feet
- Deck Width: 127 feet
- Roadway Width: 112 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.
- Brown, Robin. “Del. 1 span over C&D to be named for Bill Roth.” News Journal [Wilmington], 14 Nov. 2006, p. B1.
- Kozel, Scott. “DE Route 1 – Korean War Veterans Highway.” PENNWAYS, 30 May 2010.
- “State Route 1 Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway.” Delaware Department of Transportation, 2006.