This 2001 photo shows the northbound I-676 at EXIT 1 (Collings Avenue). (Photo by Andy Field and Alex Nitzman.)
PLANNED AS A PARKWAY: In 1932, the Regional Planning Federation (the predecessor agency to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) proposed a parkway system around the Philadelphia area similar to that constructed by Robert Moses. Like the Moses parkways in New York, the four-lane parkways were to feature controlled access, stone-arch bridges, timber lightposts and natural vegetation.
The plan proposed a parkway extending from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach in Camden southeast to Atlantic City. The Camden-Atlantic City parkway was to have been constructed along the North-South Freeway (I-76 / I-676 / NJ 42) and Atlantic City Expressway alignment. However, without a forceful "power broker" such as Moses to direct public works projects in the Delaware Valley, the route remained a dotted line through South Jersey until after World War II.
A NEW NORTH-SOUTH ROUTE FOR CAMDEN: In the late 1940's, the New Jersey State Highway Department proposed the North-South Freeway, a link that was to connect the eastern approach of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge with downtown Camden and other points in southern New Jersey. By the 1950's, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) selected a route along the current I-76 and I-676 alignments. However, fiscal difficulties - the state was to pay for half the cost of the freeway - prevented further progress.
In 1956, a section of the proposed NJ 42 Freeway from the Ben Franklin Bridge south to Gloucester City became eligible for 90 percent Federal funding under the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Over the years, the "urban connecting route" had different designations:
June 1956-June 1958: "FAI Corridor 109"
June 1958-October 1958: I-895; Pennsylvania officials proposed this designation, which was to continue west along the Vine Street Expressway.
October 1958: I-380; New Jersey officials suggested this designation to correspond with that state's proposed Interstate segments. The I-380 designation was to continue west along the Vine Street and Schuylkill expressways to Valley Forge.
November 1958-early 1964: I-80S. This was the final designation given by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO). It continued west along the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Vine Street Expressway, the Schuylkill Expressway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
1964-1973: I-76; approved by AASHO. When the I-80S designation was dropped east of the Pittsburgh area in 1964, the existing I-80S became I-76.
1973-present: I-676; the I-76 and I-676 designations through Philadelphia and Camden changed in 1973. About one mile of I-676 is dually signed with US 30 in the area of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge toll plaza.
In its 1967 report New Jersey Highway Facts, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) described the purpose of the new Interstate route as follows:
Interstate 76 and Interstate 676 will provide a direct express link from I-295 in Camden County to the Walt Whitman Bridge, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and the cities of Camden and Philadelphia.
Despite official support from the NJDOT and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the high expenditure of constructing an urban freeway was a constraint. The cost of constructing I-676, estimated in the 1960's at $38 million, had jumped to $60 million by 1976.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: The North-South Freeway, which was planned with a design speed of 60 MPH (the actual speed limit on this section is 55 MPH), was to provide a faster, safer alternative to the urban surface streets below. In conformance with Interstate standards, the new North-South Freeway was to feature six 12-foot-wide lanes, 12-foot-wide shoulders, variable medians. Provisions were made for the expressway to bridge over future PATCO high-speed rail line extensions to Woodbury and Moorestown.
Originally planned as a continuous viaduct structure, the North-South Freeway was redesigned so that it would be on an embankment 20 feet above the existing street grid. The redesign was necessary to make the expressway more compatible with the residential areas through which it was to pass. Other plans for the expressway that were dropped in the redesign included continuous collector-distributor (C/D) roads and retaining walls.
Right-of-way acquisition for the route through downtown Camden began in the early 1950's. To minimize community disruption, a "western alternative" route along existing railroad rights-of-way was chosen.
The first section of I-676, from the Walt Whitman Bridge approach (I-76) north to EXIT 3 (Morgan Boulevard), was opened to traffic in 1957 with the completion of the Walt Whitman Bridge. Further north, a second short section of I-676 from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach south to EXIT 5 (Camden CR 537-Federal Street) opened in 1972. The final section of I-676 in New Jersey opened in 1980, completing the "missing link" between EXIT 3 and EXIT 5, and ending more than three decades of planning and construction of the North-South Freeway.
IMPROVEMENTS TO I-676: To improve efficiency at EXIT 3 (Morgan Boulevard), the NJDOT widened the entrance ramp leading to southbound I-676 from one lane to two lanes, and lengthened the acceleration lane on the southbound I-676. To accommodate the widened southbound I-676, structures along I-676 were widened. The $6.5 million project was completed in 2004.
According to the NJDOT, I-676 carries approximately 60,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through the city of Camden.
This 2002 photo shows the northbound I-676 at EXIT 5B (Camden Waterfront) in downtown Camden, approaching the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
SOURCES: Regional Plan of the Philadelphia Tri-State District, Regional Planning Federation (1932); "New Roads with New Numbers Will Parallel Old U.S. Routes" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (9/19/1958); "Location Studies for North-South Freeway: Interstate 76," New Jersey Highway Department (1965); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); "Interstate 676: Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and New Jersey Department of Transportation (1976); Chris Blaney; Jeff Kitsko; Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Dan Moraseski; Sandy Smith; Stephen Summers; Jeff Taylor; Rush Wickes.
I-676 and I-76 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.