In a lightly attended evening session, the Delaware River Port Authority board on Wednesday took the first steps toward repairing the Betsy Ross Bridge, the newest of its four spans across the Delaware.

A board committee approved a $754,600 contract with an engineering firm to prepare a strategy for rebuilding the deteriorating deck of the Betsy Ross, which opened to traffic in 1976.

Chief engineer Mike Venuto said bridge inspections revealed deterioration of the concrete deck, the overlying asphalt, and the joints between the concrete slabs.

Major construction on the Betsy Ross could add to the woes of motorists who already face three years of lane closures and delays during a $140 million redecking of the Walt Whitman Bridge that will get under way this spring.

The Betsy Ross contract, which must be approved by the full DRPA board next month, is to be awarded to the Philadelphia office of Ammann & Whitney Inc., an engineering and architectural firm headquartered in New York.

The engineering analysis is to take up to 30 months. No schedule or cost estimates for the construction were announced.

The DRPA board met in an unusual evening session to give the public a chance to attend. But the board session proved no more of a draw at night than during its usual morning sessions.

Only a handful of people showed up at the Collingswood Senior Community Center, including an Elvis impersonator and several members of the DRPA's newly selected citizens' advisory committee.

Mark McMichael, the impersonator who also attended the board's evening session last November, suggested that a stage be built atop the toll booths for the Ben Franklin Bridge to give him a venue for crooning. The board did not act on the request.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or