This 1963 map shows the projected route of I-178 into downtown Allentown from the Lehigh Valley Thruway (US 22), which at that time also was designated as I-78. The actual route of I-178 began east of the Lehigh River, not west as depicted in this map.

The I-78 designation moved south of the city in 1970, effectively removing the Interstate funding for that route, but the Allentown Spur Route continued as an active proposal until 1976.

(Map © 1963 by Rand McNally; supplied by Jeff Kitsko.)

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AN INTERSTATE SPUR FOR ALLENTOWN: Plans for the Allentown Spur Route actually predated the Interstate highway system. First announced in 1954 by the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (PDH), the Allentown Spur Route was proposed to link the Lehigh Valley Thruway (US 22), which at the time was nearing completion through the area, with the east side of Allentown. The basic routing for what eventually was designated I-178 was depicted in the 1955 "Yellow Book," which published by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR), and was shown as a spur extending south from US 22, which originally was planned to carry the I-78 designation through the Lehigh Valley.

At the northern end, the 3.8-mile-long Allentown Spur Route was to intersect US 22 at a new interchange between the between the east bank of the Lehigh River and the Airport Road (PA 987) interchange. It was to cross the Lehigh River on a new span between Hamilton Street and Tilghman Street, then veer southwest through the Sixth Ward and First Ward. The southern terminus was to be at the intersection of Hamilton Street and Third Street. Like the Bethlehem Spur Route (originally I-378, now PA 378) to the east, the Allentown Spur Route was to have four lanes, two in each direction.

STILL A FREEWAY SPUR, BUT NO LONGER AN INTERSTATE: After three years of study, the PDH formally agreed to relocate the proposed route of I-78 south of the immediate Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area in 1969, and in 1970, the Federal government approved the relocation of I-78 from the Lehigh Valley Thruway. With the relocation of I-78 from the US 22 corridor, the proposed Allentown Spur Route no longer had a direct Interstate highway connection. Subsequently, the I-178 designation, as well as the 90% Federal reimbursement of highway funds for the estimated $22 million construction cost, were removed.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the successor agency to the PDH, maintained the Allentown Spur Route on official state plans through the early and mid-1970s. In 1970, the state attempted to re-designate I-178 for the Allentown Spur Route, but this time as a longer, seven-mile route connecting US 22 with I-78 to the south, but this plan did not gain much traction.

After the Interstate designation was removed, the Allentown Spur Route had the "LR 1006" designation as assigned by the State Legislature, but did not receive a touring route designation. It is speculated that it could have received the PA 178 designation, though at the time, the PA 178 designation was assigned to a road in Erie County. (The PA 178 designation in Erie County was removed in 1983.)

Nevertheless, PennDOT continued to press ahead with plans for the Allentown Spur Route, and introduced plans for a northerly extension of the freeway along the west side of Lehigh Valley International Airport (then called Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Airport). PennDOT planned a cloverleaf interchange at US 22, with ramps to be graded for the future northerly extension. However, as the environmental impact statement was being developed, concerns were raised by city officials that the state plan would require the acquisition of 488 residential and commercial properties. North of US 22, there were concerns that the proposed route of the Spur Extension to the airport would not clear the 800-foot clearance, which is set by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements, for one of the runways.

In 1973, property owners in the First and Sixth Wards, who had suffered from years of declining property values in anticipation of Allentown Spur construction, demanded that PennDOT arrive at a final decision regarding construction of the freeway, and specifically, which properties would need to be acquired.

According to
The Morning Call:

"(The property owners) attempted at great expense to maintain our properties as livable and usable. Factors beyond our control, such as vandalism of properties, broken windows, careless housekeeping by tenants, scattered trash and, most important, lack of concern by city authorities, have made this area of our city blighted and run-down."

EXIT ALLENTOWN SPUR, ENTER AMERICAN PARKWAY: In a 1976 letter to Allentown Mayor Joseph Daddona, PennDOT Secretary William Sherlock canceled the $35 million Allentown Spur Route. Not long after the state plan was canceled, Daddona announced his own plan to improve access to the east side of Allentown. To reduce costs, Daddona planned to purchase the right-of-way of the abandoned West End Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which at the time was owned by Conrail. The city approved funding for the four-lane undivided arterial, which originally was to stretch along the same route as the canceled I-178, in 1980 and 1981. However, high interest expenses owing to an unattractive bond market prompted city officials to put the project on hold.

When funding finally came through, the city began construction of the first stretch of the American Parkway, which was a half-mile-long section stretching from Hamilton Street north to Gordon Street. This section, which cost $2 million to build, was completed in 1985. A second section stretching from Gordon Street northeast to Front Street was completed in 1988; this section cost $3 million to build and required the demolition of 32 properties.

With only a little more than a mile of American Parkway completed, and the bridge and its connection to US 22 still in limbo, the project lacked funds for its completion for a decade and a half. In the meantime, an updated plan from the 1990s made the following changes to the American Parkway to reduce costs:

  • To reduce costs, a grade-separated interchange with North Dauphin Street was eliminated. Instead, a new connector road--North Bradford Street--was built to connect American Parkway with North Dauphin Street. There are signalized intersections at both ends of North Bradford Street.

  • An eastern extension of the road from Nelson Street east to Pennsylvania Avenue was shelved.

  • A spur to US 22 through the current site of the St. Luke's health campus also was shelved altogether.

In 2002, the northeastern segment of American Parkway was opened to traffic. It was built as a two-lane section from Nelson Street west to Airport Road, a four-lane section from Airport Road to a point just west of Business Park Lane, and a transition to a temporary two-lane section west to North Bradford Street.

It took another decade for work to begin again on the final segment of the parkway, which was comprised of a four-lane span over the Lehigh River from Front Street to the North Bradford Street connector. After several proposals were evaluated costing as much as $60 million, New Enterprise Stone & Lime, an engineering firm based in northwestern Pennsylvania, won the contract with a $38 million bid. The project involved the design and construction of a 6,000-foot long, four-lane highway, with two new bridge structures, five signalized intersections, a 310-foot long retaining wall, and a 540-foot long noise wall. Construction of the bridge and its approaches began in December 2012 and was completed in November 2015.

This 2012 photo shows American Parkway looking southwest toward Irving Street near Coca-Cola Park in Allentown. The four-lane surface arterial, which effectively replaced I-178, was completed in 2015 upon construction of a new bridge across the Lehigh River. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

SOURCES: "Preliminary Plans Proceed for Allentown Spur Route," The Morning Call (9/08/1966); "News and Views Around the Keystone State," Reading Eagle (10/03/1969); "News and Views Around the Keystone State," Reading Eagle (2/17/1970); Capital Budget Act for Fiscal Year 1972-1973, Highway Project Itemization Supplement, Pennsylvania General Assembly (1972); "News and Views Around the Keystone State," Reading Eagle (12/03/1973); I-78, Haafsville, PA to Still Valley, NJ, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, US Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and New Jersey Department of Transportation (1973); "Decay Has Given Way To Pride in Rehabilitated City Neighborhood" by Bob Wittman, Jr., The Morning Call (11/10/1985); "Railway Being Converted to Highway" by Ted Mellin, The Morning Call (12/28/1985); "City's 'Road to Nowhere' May Never Be Completed; American Parkway Isn't the Boon Predicted by Mayor" by Cael Weston, The Morning Call (7/06/1988); "American Parkway Built Instead of Spur Route" by Dan Hartzell, The Morning Call (6/07/2002); "American Parkway Extension Plan Includes Connector Road," The Morning Call (10/03/2005); "Allentown's American Parkway Bridge Groundbreaking" by Matt Assad, The Morning Call (12/14/2012); "Crews Making Progress on American Parkway Bridge in Allentown," WFMZ-TV (5/12/2014); "American Parkway Bridge Opens After 60 Years in Works" by Emily Opilo, The Morning Call (11/24/2015); Gannett Fleming, Inc.; Jeff Kitsko; Scott Oglesby.

  • I-178 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • PA 178 shield by Steve Anderson.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.


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