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This 2010 photo shows the northbound PA 33 Expressway approaching the unsigned EXIT 4 (US 22 / Lehigh Valley Thruway) in Palmer Township. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)



27.7 miles (44.6 kilometers); mainline
2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers); US 209 spur to I-80

CONNECTING THE LEHIGH VALLEY WITH THE POCONOS: Plans for the PA 33 Expressway were first announced in 1956 when the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (PDH) proposed a bypass of US 611 (now PA 611) from Bethlehem north to Bartonsville. The four-lane, north-south route was designed to connect US 22 (Lehigh Valley Thruway)--which at the time was proposed to be part of I-78--with I-80. It also was to serve as a bypass for trucks unable to use the Lehigh Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Northeast Extension (I-476).

The first section to open was a 5.0-mile-long stretch from PA 512 in Wind Gap north to Saylorsburg. Built from 1959 to 1960, and originally designated as PA 90, the freeway was not built to Interstate highway standards despite having full control of access. A narrow median, limited sight distances, steep grades of up to 6%, and short acceleration-deceleration lanes characterized this section. The PA 90 designation lasted only one year, and beginning in 1961, the freeway was known as PA 115.

In 1964, a second section of freeway stretching 8.1 miles opened from Saylorsburg north to its northern terminus at PA 611 in Bartonsville. This section was similar in design to the initial section as it also was built to sub-Interstate highway standards despite offering full control of access. Including in this section was a partial interchange with I-80, as well as a four-lane US 209 spur that connected the PA 115 Freeway with I-80 in Stroudsburg. The US 209 spur offered partial control of access, though there is--and remains--a traffic light at Shafers School House Road in Stroud Township.

The next section of the PA 115 Freeway to open was a 5.8-mile-long segment from PA 512 in Wind Gap south to PA 191 in Stockerton. Built between 1967 and 1969, this section was closer in design to contemporary Interstate highway standards, featuring a wide median strip and longer acceleration-deceleration lanes.

In 1972, the next section of freeway opened, extending the route south 5.4 miles from PA 191 in Stockerton south to US 22 in Bethlehem. By the time this section was completed, all 24 miles of the existing freeway were re-designated PA 33, from the prior PA 115 designation. South of the PA 33-US 22 cloverleaf interchange, a dual-carriageway stub was built for a future southern extension of PA 33.

LEFT: This 2018 photo shows the southbound PA 33 Expressway just south of the unsigned EXIT 24 (Snydersville / Manor Drive) in Hamilton Township. (Photo by Steve Anderson.) RIGHT: This 2005 photo shows the northbound PA 33 Expressway approaching the unsigned EXIT 27 (I-80) in Stroudsburg. The expressway ends just north of the PA 33 / I-80 interchange at PA 611 in Stroudsburg. (Photo by Doug Kerr.)

EXTENDING SOUTH TO A RELOCATED I-78: For many years, the future of the PA 33 extension seemed uncertainty, particularly as the future of its connecting route to the south, I-78, also was uncertain. After a moratorium on statewide highway construction, PennDOT approved the 3.3-mile-long extension, which included a new high-level bridge across the Lehigh River, in 1983.

Even as state officials pressed for the construction of PA 33, the cost of the extension climbed from $52 million in 1986 to $78 million by 1989, and in 1990, when the state said it would delay construction until the late 1990s, the estimated cost of the extension had risen to $100 million. US Senator John Heinz and US Representative Don Ritter pushed for the Federal government to reimburse the state for half of the construction cost.

In 1993, PennDOT completed its final environmental impact statement for the PA 33 extension. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ordered the state to make interchange-area improvements to Freemansburg Avenue and William Penn Highway. Once PennDOT agreed to make these improvements, the FHWA gave final approval for the PA 33 extension in 1994. Funding for the extension once again appeared in jeopardy in 1996 as the state made $1.1 billion in highway and bridge spending cuts, but PennDOT quickly restored the funding after meeting with the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study group. PennDOT completed final design work in 1997.

Construction of the PA 33 extension began in March 1999. Like the rest of the expressway, this section of PA 33 has two through travel lanes in each direction, though a wide grassy median could accommodate a third travel lane in each direction. The highlight of this section is a six-span, 1,870-foot-long steel bridge that rises 180 feet over the Lehigh River. The bridge has a main span of 594 feet, and about 13.5 million tons of steel were used in its construction. The $104 million extension, which included construction of a park-and-ride lot at Freemansburg Avenue (unsigned EXIT 2), was completed in January 2002.

CHANGES FOR INTERCHANGES: Work began in November 2013 on a new interchange (unsigned EXIT 8) for Main Street in Tatamy (Palmer Township) to serve a growing warehouse and logistics area. The $40 million project was completed in June 2015. A portion of the cost was financed by the Charles Chrin Companies, a leading developer in the area.

In 2017, work began on replacing the PA 33 bridges over US 22 in Palmer Township after PennDOT found them to be structurally deficient. The $6 million project, which was completed in 2019 as part of a fast-track project, included accommodation for an additional travel lane in each direction on US 22 for a future widening project.

According to PennDOT, the PA 33 Expressway carries approximately 55,000 vehicles per day (AADT) from I-78 north to US 22, about 65,000 vehicles per day from US 22 north to PA 248, about 55,000 vehicles per day from PA 248 north to PA 191, about 40,000 vehicles per day from PA 191 north to the US 209 split, and about 25,000 vehicles per day north to I-80. North of PA 512, the speed limit is reduced from 65 MPH to 55 MPH.

This 2010 photo shows the southbound PA 33 Expressway approaching the unsigned EXIT 4 (US 22 / Lehigh Valley Thruway) in Palmer Township. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

EXTENDING SOUTH TO DOYLESTOWN AND PHILADELPHIA? Beginning in the late 1950s, the Philadelphia Urban Traffic and Transportation Board, a predecessor agency to Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), proposed extending Woodhaven Road (PA 63), a controlled-access freeway, north into Bucks County and beyond as a "611 Relief Route" expressway. Continuing through the 1960s, the DVRPC and other highway planners had the following two-stage proposal for extending Woodhaven Road beyond Lower Moreland Township:

  • In the initial stage of extension, the expressway was to continue north and west from Lower Moreland Township, meeting the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276) near Southampton Township, Bucks County. The 4.8-mile-long, $68 million extension from US 1 northwest to I-276 was scheduled for completion by 1975.

  • North of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the route was to become the Cross County Expressway ("611 Relief Route"), and continue to the southern terminus of the present-day Doylestown Bypass (PA 611). From the northern end of the Doylestown Bypass, the proposed Cross County Expressway was to continue north through Bucks and Northampton counties to the existing southern terminus of the PA 33 Expressway (at I-78 and US 22) near Easton. This part of the extension, for which no cost estimate was given, was to have been completed by 1985.

In 1964, the Comprehensive Plan for Lehigh and Northampton Counties concurred with planning officials in the Delaware Valley and developed their own plan for the 611 Relief Route, which it called the "North-South Expressway." The Doylestown Bypass, which was built in the mid-1970s, survives as part of this original plan.

The scope of the North-South Expressway was reduced in 1967 when the southern terminus of the expressway was moved north to Harrow (Nockamixon Township) in Bucks County. The relocation of the I-78 alignment south of the urbanized Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area in 1969-1970 necessitated a new interchange between I-78 and PA 33. However, these new plans did not include an extension of PA 33 south of I-78, effectively killing the North-South Expressway / 611 Relief Route.

This map from the 1993 final environmental impact statement for the PA 33 extension shows the originally proposed "611 Relief Route" extending south through Northampton and Bucks Counties. (Map created by Clarke & Raupano; report developed by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.)

PennDOT should adopt a milepost-based exit numbering scheme on the PA 33 Expressway as follows:

EXITS 0 A-B I-78
EXIT 1  Freemansburg Avenue
EXIT 2  William Penn Highway
EXITS 3 A-B US 22 (Lehigh Valley Thruway)
EXIT 4  Hecktown Road
EXIT 6  PA 248
EXIT 8  Main Street (Tatamy)
EXIT 9  PA 191
EXIT 11 Belfast (Henry Road)
EXIT 15 PA 512
EXIT 17 Wind Gap (Broadway; southbound PA 33 exit only)
EXIT 20 Saylorsburg
EXIT 24 Snydersville (Manor Drive)
EXIT 25 US 209 NORTH / TO I-80 EAST(northbound PA 33 exit only)
EXIT 26 Business US 209 (southbound PA 33 exit only)
EXIT 27 I-80 WEST (northbound PA 33 exit only)
EXIT 28 PA 611 (northern terminus; at-grade intersection)

SOURCES: "Loop Highways To Cut Tie-Ups Urged for Area" by James P. McFadden, The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/22/1957); "Route 33 Extension, Route 22 Interchange to Route 78 Interchange, Final Environmental Impact Statement," US Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1993); "Long Journey for Route 33" by Dianne Knauss, The Morning Call (3/04/2001); "Completion of Route 33 Interchange Pushed Back to June" by Bill Landauer, The Morning Call (1/08/2015); "Route 33 Bridges Over Route 22 Set for Rapid Replacement" by Kurt Bresswein, The Express-Times (12/03/2016); Construction Equipment Guide; Charles Chrin Companies; Jeff Kitsko.

  • PA 33, PA 90, PA 115, and PA 611 shields by Steve Anderson.
  • US 209 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.





  • PA 33 Expressway exit list by Steve Anderson.

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