This 2008 photo shows the northbound Fort Washington Expressway (PA 309) at the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276) in Fort Washington. The reconstruction of this interchange -- shown near completion in this photo -- was completed in late 2008 after seven years of work. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
FROM THE CITY LINE TO THE NORTHERN SUBURBS: Extending just over ten miles from Wyncote to Ambler, the Fort Washington Expressway was constructed on a former Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way. Planning began on the route as early as 1947, when the Philadelphia City Planning Commission recommended a "North Penn Expressway" (as it was then called) from Montgomery County to the Near Northeast section of Philadelphia, where the route was to continue south as the "Tacony Expressway" to its terminus at the Delaware Expressway (I-95).
Constructed by the Pennsylvania Department of Highways in the late 1950's as part of a much longer US 309 Expressway, the Fort Washington Expressway is characterized by design flaws that plague older expressways: limited sight distances, short acceleration and deceleration lanes (motorists must come to a full stop before entering the highway), and a lack of shoulders.
The first section of the Fort Washington Expressway, from PA 63 (Welsh Road) in Ambler south to PA 73 (Church Road) in Flourtown, was completed in 1958. Included in this section was the Fort Washington interchange with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-276) The remainder of the expressway, from PA 73 south to PA 152 (Limekiln Pike) in Wyncote, was completed in 1960. Near the southern terminus, the "high-speed" interchange with Easton Road was originally constructed for the unbuilt Ten-Mile Loop Expressway. In 1967, the US 309 Expressway was re-designated PA 309.
The Philadelphia Inquirer described the Fort Washington Expressway as follows:
Sometimes, design flaws, not age, are responsible for congestion and a high accident rate. The Route 309 Expressway in Upper Dublin Township, Montgomery County, has a 1950's design. The acceleration and deceleration lanes are short, forcing motorists to go from a full stop to highway speed in no time, and there is no shoulder.
This 2008 photo shows the Fort Washington Expressway (PA 309) at the Paper Mill Road exit in Oreland (Springfield Township). Reconstruction of this section of PA 309 was completed earlier that year. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS: In 1998, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced a $160 million project to reconstruct the entire length of the Fort Washington Expressway. The project, which now is in its final stages, is being 80% financed by the Federal government and 20% by PennDOT.
In addition to rebuilding the expressway roadbed, PennDOT planned upgrades at nine interchanges, and completely rebuilt the interchange at the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276). The overall project includes the reconstruction of 40 bridges and overpasses, lengthening of acceleration and deceleration lanes to standard length, construction of new entrance and exit ramps, addition of new 12-foot-wide right shoulders and four-foot-wide left shoulders, installation of a 50-inch-high concrete median barrier and glare screen, erection of sound barriers along four miles of the expressway in residential areas, improvement of the drainage system, and implementation of a new traffic management system (utilizing variable message signs, traffic detectors and video cameras).
PennDOT is working on the following schedule for the reconstruction of Route 309:
In early 2001, PennDOT began off-highway improvements along parallel routes (such as PA 152) and at 32 nearby intersections. These minor improvements were completed in 2003.
In late 2001, PennDOT, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), began reconstruction of the Fort Washington interchange between the Fort Washington Expressway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276), and Pennsylvania Avenue. New bridges and ramps were built at nine interchanges, and new collector-distributor (C/D) roads were constructed along the Fort Washington Expressway in a complete reconstruction of the interchange. Local traffic on Pennsylvania Turnpike uses the C/D roads, eliminating the need to enter the PA 309 Expressway mainline. The interchange was completed in late 2006.
In late 2002, PennDOT began reconstruction of the expressway mainline from the southern terminus at PA 152 in Wyncote north to Highland Avenue in Fort Washington. The southern part of the mainline reconstruction, which includes replacement of the existing "high-speed" interchange between PA 309, PA 152, and Easton Road with a conventional full-diamond interchange, was completed in late 2008, about one and one-half years behind schedule.
In early 2004, PennDOT began reconstruction of the expressway mainline from the Highland Avenue exit in Fort Washington to the northern terminus at PA 63 in Ambler. The northern part of the mainline construction is slated for completion in 2010, two years later than originally scheduled.
According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the Fort Washington Expressway carries approximately 55,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
This photo shows the rebuilt Fort Washington Expressway (PA 309) at the new diamond interchange with Easton Road in Wyncote shortly after its completion in late 2008. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
EXTENDING SOUTH TO CENTER CITY: From the late 1940's through the mid-1970's, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission recommended an extension of the Fort Washington Expressway south to Center City. The north-south radial route was to have continued southeast from Wyncote through North Philadelphia, intersecting the Roosevelt Expressway (US 1) just west of Broad Street, then veering due south at Sixth Street before ending at the (unbuilt) Girard Avenue Expressway.
The Commission described the route as follows:
This north-south route will connect the Route 309 Expressway with the Girard Avenue Expressway, to provide Germantown, Oak Lane and other northern residential areas with a limited-access route to and from Center City, and to relieve overloads on the Schuylkill Expressway.
In 1969, the DVRPC estimated that the 4.5-mile-long, $50 million section from the existing southern terminus in Wyncote south to the Roosevelt Expressway (US 1) would be completed by 1975, and that the 3.5-mile-long, $44 million section from the Roosevelt Expressway south to the Girard Avenue Expressway would be completed by 1985. Rising construction costs and a more difficult political environment doomed the southern extension of the PA 309 Expressway, however. On July 1, 1977, PennDOT halted all spending on proposed highway projects, and subsequently, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission removed the expressway from its future capital program.
EXTENDING NORTH TO LANSDALE AND BEYOND: In the 1960's, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, the predecessor to PennDOT, planned a northern extension of the North Penn Expressway. From the existing northern terminus, the PA 309 Expressway was to be extended northwest to connect to the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Northeast Extension (I-476) in Lansdale. Just west of Lansdale, the proposed PA 309 Expressway was to have veered northeast of the turnpike connection to the southern end of the existing controlled-access section near Soudertown. Eventually, the entire length of PA 309 from Philadelphia north to Allentown, most of which remains a four-lane divided highway, may have been converted into an expressway.
In 1983, PennDOT planned a scaled-down, 7.5-mile-long extension of the PA 309 Expressway from Ambler north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Northeast Extension in Lansdale. The expressway, which was to have been constructed on right-of-way already acquired by PennDOT, was to connect new housing developments in northern Montgomery County with industrial parks in the Fort Washington area, and was to relieve congestion on two-lane roads that parallel the route. In addition with the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Northeast Extension interchange, additional interchanges were planned at Bethlehem Pike, the proposed US 202 Expressway, North Wales Road, and PA 63-PA 463.
PennDOT has no current plans to extend the Fort Washington Expressway north of its current terminus in Ambler. Indeed, when the US 202 limited-access parkway is built from the end of the current expressway in Doylestown south to Montgomeryville (at the junction of US 202 and PA 63), the PA 309 Expressway will not be extended to meet the new US 202 Parkway, even though the ends of the two routes are less than two miles apart.
SOURCES: "Philadelphia Expressway Program," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1947); "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); "1970-1983 Traffic Trends," Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1983); "Schuylkill Carries the Load of Many Roads Left Unbuilt" by Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/19/1984); "Crush of Traffic Ravages Once-Rural Roads" by Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia Inquirer (5/26/1998); "309's Makeover" by Marc Schogol, The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/26/2006); "309 Expressway Improvement Project," Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (2006); Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association; Jeff Kitsko; Scott Kozel; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith; Lee Winson.
PA 309 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.