A driver coming from New Jersey to Delaware became the official face of the one-billionth motorist to cross the bridge.
Jeff Wright wasn’t sure what was happening when he was stopped while trying to pass through the toll booths this morning at the Delaware Memorial Bridge. “I really thought I was in trouble, I don’t know why, my EZ Pass expired?”
Wright, who frequently travels over the bridge week for his Wildwood, NJ-based computer consulting company, was actually selected by Delaware and River Bay Authority officials to represent the milestone. While Wright wasn’t actually the billionth driver to cross, that anonymous driver likely made the crossing a few days ago, he was randomly selected to be honored as the ceremonial billionth car to go over the bridge.
Along with the honor, Wright received a framed picture of the bridge, a DRBA medallion, and instead of paying the toll today, DRBA officials loaded his EZPass unit with $250 to help him start the countdown to the two billion mark. Governor Jack Markell was also on hand at the toll booth to greet Wright and pose for pictures.
It was a University of Delaware student who worked with the DRBA to figure out when the billionth crossing would happen. Steven MacDonald, a junior majoring in international business finance, determined the crossing would happen around today’s date after studying traffic counts over the years. When he first looked at the numbers, more than 983 million cars had passed over the bridge. “I projected based on last year’s numbers to estimate what date we would have the one billionth customer,” MacDonald said. “Microsoft Excel helps, and you just basically use last year’s numbers because there are similar economies, so that’s what I did.”
The first span of the bridge opened to traffic in 1951. Almost immediately the traffic outpaced expectations, with eight million cars crossing the bridge every year. That was double what planners had anticipated, so work started on a second span that was completed in 1968. Construction of the second span also spurred the creation of the DRBA through an agreement between Delaware and New Jersey. The interstate compact created the funding for the second span and also helped develop the Cape May Lewes Ferry and other transportation infrastructure in both states.
Today, more than 80,000 cars cross the bridges on an average day. At that rate, it will take another 30 plus years before the bridge’s two billionth driver crosses.