This 2004 photo shows the eastbound PA 291 (Penrose Avenue) at the intersection with South 26th Street. The PA 291 continues with a left turn onto South 26th Street, which leads to the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76). In recent years, Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street -- which together form a gateway route from Philadelphia International Airport to Center City -- have been spruced up with landscaping and decorative lighting. This route connecting I-95 with I-76 was planned for the Industrial Expressway (PA 291). (Photo by Alex Nitzman, aaroads.com.)
PROPOSING A NEW GATEWAY ROUTE: First proposed in 1950 by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the Industrial Expressway was to connect the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) with the Delaware Expressway (I-95) near Philadelphia International Airport. The expressway, which was to comprise of an expanded Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street through a heavily industrialized section of Southwest Philadelphia, would likely have been designated PA 291.
Beginning at the current EXIT 13 (PA 291) of the Delaware Expressway, the Industrial Expressway was to be routed along 1.9 miles of Penrose Avenue, crossing the Schuylkill River over the George C. Platt Bridge. At the intersection of Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street, the expressway was to divide into western and eastern "wyes" as follows:
The 1.3-mile-long western "wye" was to veer north along South 26th Street, meeting the Schuylkill Expressway at the current EXIT 347A (South 26th Street to PA 291 / Penrose Avenue). This "wye" was to connect eastbound I-76 traffic to southbound I-95, and northbound I-95 traffic to westbound I-76.
The 1.1-mile-long eastern "wye" was to continue northeast along Penrose Avenue, meeting the Schuylkill Expressway at the current EXIT 348 (PA 291 / Penrose Avenue). This "wye" was to connect westbound I-76 traffic to southbound I-95, and northbound I-95 traffic to eastbound I-76.
The Industrial Expressway remained an active plan through the 1960's and 1970's, when the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) both supported the expressway. Construction of the $18 million expressway conversion, which was originally scheduled for completion by 1975, was delayed by funding shortfalls.
On July 1, 1977, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) halted all funding on proposed highway projects, effectively killing hopes for constructing new expressways in Philadelphia. Subsequently, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission dropped the Industrial Expressway from its future capital program.
This 2004 photo shows the westbound PA 291 (Penrose Avenue) at the exit for the Delaware Expressway (I-95). This location was to have served as the southern terminus for the Industrial Expressway. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, northeastroads.com.)
The Industrial Expressway proposal should be resurrected, providing a new limited-access gateway from Center City to Philadelphia International Airport. As an Interstate highway connection, the route should be given a new designation: I-876. Extensive landscaping and environmental mitigation should be an integral part of the project.
Converting Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street into a limited-access route could be accomplished without much difficulty. All of the high-speed ramps at I-76 have been in place since it was built (although the ramps to and from South 26th Street are substandard and extremely deficient). The route is already limited-access from Philadelphia International Airport across the Platt Bridge to the signalized intersection between Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street. Concrete "Jersey" barriers separate opposing traffic flows on both Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street.
Specifically, the following improvements would be needed:
Replacing the signalized intersection between Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street with a grade-separated interchange.
Eliminating the intersection between South 26th Street and Hartranft Street.
Separating the opposing traffic flows along Penrose Avenue from South 26th Street north to the I-76 ramps.
Reconstructing EXIT 347A (South 26th Street to PA 291 / Penrose Avenue) and EXIT 348 (PA 291 / Penrose Avenue) on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) to comply with modern standards.
SOURCES: "Schuylkill Expressway, Roosevelt Boulevard Expressway and Vine Street Expressway," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1950); "Philadelphia's Comprehensive Plan for Expressways," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1966); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); Capital Program: City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1978); "Schuylkill Carries the Load of Many Roads Left Unbuilt" by Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/19/1984); Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith.
PA 291 and I-876 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.