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This 2010 photo shows the southbound Bethlehem Spur Route (PA 378) at EXIT 1 (Catasauqua Road) in Bethlehem. At the time of this photo, the original lightpoles and sign gantries from the freeway's opening in 1967 were still standing, though the original sign for EXIT 1 read "Schoenersville Road." (Photo by Steve Anderson.)


3.3 miles (5.3 kilometers)

AN INTERSTATE SPUR FOR BETHLEHEM: Plans for the Bethlehem Spur Route actually predated the Interstate highway system. First announced in 1954 by the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (PDH), the Bethlehem Spur Route was proposed to link the Lehigh Valley Thruway (US 22), which at the time was nearing completion through the area, with the Hill-to-Hill Bridge across the Lehigh River in Bethlehem.

The basic routing for what eventually was designated I-378 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. The freeway was designed to provide quick access from US 22 to the Bethlehem Steel plant on the south side of the Lehigh River. Like the companion Allentown Spur Route (I-178) to the west, the Bethlehem Spur Route was to be built with four lanes, two in each direction. Unlike the Allentown Spur, however, the Bethlehem Spur had much broader support, particularly as most of the route did not go through a dense urban area, nor did it require construction of a new river span. These two factors ultimately killed I-178.

Construction of the 3.3-mile-long route began in 1965, when workers moved a Revolutionary War-era burial ground and cabin that stood in the I-378 right-of-way. The remains were moved to a small memorial park on First Avenue, while the cabin was moved to the Rose Garden on Eighth Avenue. Construction of the I-378 bridges began in the spring of 1966.

The city of Bethlehem decided early on to illuminate the entire length of the expressway. State rules to this day require only the lighting of highways and ramps near interchanges, but the city, along with backing from top officials at Bethlehem Steel, wanted all of I-378 to have highway lighting. The PDH agreed, as long as the city agreed to split the cost of lighting I-378 with the state.

At the Hill-to-Hill Bridge, which was built in 1924 and formed the northern terminus of I-378, the existing two-way bridge approaches that led to Second Avenue to the west, and Main Street to the east, were reconfigured into one-way ramps such that the Second Avenue approach became a southbound-only ramp to the bridge, and the Main Street approach became a northbound-only ramp from the bridge. Another ramp that led southeast from the bridge to Lehigh Street was eliminated.

The $7 million Bethlehem Spur Route was opened to traffic on November 20, 1967. The entire length of the route from US 22 south to the Hill-to-Hill Bridge was signed as I-378.

This 1968 map from the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (PDH) shows the completed Bethlehem Spur Route as I-378. The freeway was re-designated PA 378 in 1971, one year after I-78 was officially relocated south of the urbanized Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area.

(Map © 1968 Pennsylvania Department of Highways, supplied by Jeff Kitsko.)

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 completed Bethlehem Spur Route no longer had a direct Interstate highway connection, and the route no longer was eligible for Interstate status. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the successor agency to the PDH, re-redesignated the spur route as PA 378 in 1971. In 1974, the PA 378 designation replaced the PA 191 designation from downtown Bethlehem south to PA 309 in Center Valley.

Few changes have been made to the freeway since it opened, as a late 1970s plan to build additional ramps at EXIT 1 (Catasauqua Road) was shelved. However, on the Hill-to-Hill Bridge and the immediate approaches, the ramp from Second Avenue to the southbound bridge was closed in 1973, though the elevated approach remains as a dead-end street despite calls to remove that ramp. In 1988, the ramp from the northbound lanes to River Street and Sand Island Park was removed. In 2011, the southern approach to the Hill-to-Hill Bridge was rebuilt following a two-year project that reconfigured and widened the Wyandotte Street and Second Street ramps to the bridge.

According to PennDOT, the Bethlehem Spur Route carries approximately 45,000 vehicles per day (AADT). PA 378 is one of the few non-Interstate highways in Pennsylvania to have numbered exits, though that is a legacy of the freeway's I-378 designation. In 2009, the freeway was ceremonially renamed after former Congressman Fred B. Rooney in honor of his efforts to get it built.

This 2018 photo shows the southbound Bethlehem Spur Route (PA 378) at EXIT 2 (Eighth Avenue) in Bethlehem. PennDOT and city officials devised plans to limit new lighting to the area near interchanges. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

This 2018 photo shows PA 378 looking north from the Brighton Street intersection at the approach to the Hill-to-Hill Bridge. The proposed extension of the Bethlehem Spur Route / South Side Spur would have required construction of a replacement Hill-to-Hill Bridge so that it would comply with Interstate standards. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

A NEW FREEWAY LINK TO A RELOCATED I-78: In 1970, PennDOT submitted a request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to include a 4.0-mile-long extension of I-378 to connect the Hill-to-Hill Bridge south to the relocated I-78, thereby creating a 7.3-mile-long freeway from US 22 south to the then-proposed I-78. The FHWA denied PennDOT's request.

In 1972, city and state officials commissioned Gruen Associates, a leading planning firm, to devise a wide-ranging proposal to develop Bethlehem on the south side of the Lehigh River. A key part of the proposal was the construction of the "South Side Spur," which was a revived plan to extend the Bethlehem Spur Route southeast toward a relocated I-78. The $48 million extension, which PennDOT may have considered for resubmission to the Federal government as an Interstate highway eligible for 90% Federal reimbursement--thus reinstating the I-378 designation--was to have been built as follows:

  • Beginning at a rebuilt Hill-to-Hill Bridge, there was to have been a directional-Y interchange built with Constitution Drive, a freeway spur that was to have been built along the south bank of the Lehigh River west toward Allentown. Additional slip ramps also would have been built at this interchange at Second Street (southbound exit) and Third Street (northbound entrance).

  • Continuing east of the Constitution Drive interchange, the South Side Spur was to have been built in between Third and Fourth Streets, with most of the freeway to be built along the abandoned Reading Railroad right-of-way. Third and Fourth Streets were to serve as service roads, and be targeted for new commercial development. Additional slip ramps also would have been built east of the commercial area at Second Street (northbound exit) and Third Street (southbound entrance).

  • Just east of McNamara Park, there was to have been a directional-T interchange for a new Minsi Trail Bridge at Stefko Boulevard, and additional bridge ramps would have been built to connect to William Street. (The new Minsi Trail Bridge was opened in 1984.)

  • A new interchange at an extended Lynn Avenue would have provided direct access to the Bethlehem Steel plant. (Lynn Avenue was extended later even without construction of the South Side Spur.)

  • East of the Lynn Avenue interchange, the South Side Spur would have veered south, continuing along the path of the abandoned Reading Railroad right-of-way. As the freeway crossed Saucon Creek, a trumpet interchange was to have been built for a connector to PA 412 (Hellertown Road).

  • The South Side Spur would have ended at a directional-T interchange at I-78 in the area of Saucon Park.

According to the
South Side '76 report, the $48 million cost of the South Side Spur did not include expenses associated with a potential replacement of the Hill-to-Hill Bridge, which likely would have added significantly to the cost of the project.

Although the South Side Spur plan remained active through much of the 1970s, the proposed interchange between I-78 and the South Side Spur would have required significant land acquisition at Saucon Park. This was a particular concern for officials, since the Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966 prohibited such takings unless there was "no feasible and prudent" alternative. This issue affected not only the South Side Spur and the I-78 interchange, but also the proposed I-78 southern bypass. In 1977, PennDOT halted funding for all proposed highway projects statewide, effectively killing the South Side Spur and delaying construction of the I-78 southern bypass until the late 1980s.

The cancellation of the South Side Spur did not hamper plans for a new southern gateway to Bethlehem, and these plans took on new urgency with the closure of the main Bethlehem Steel plant in 1995, and later, with the 2009 opening of the Sands Casino (now Wind Creek Casino), along with an adjacent outlet center and arts venues, on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant. From 2014 to 2016, Hellertown Road, Fourth Street, Daly Road (all part of PA 412) were widened, effectively forming a new southern gateway to Bethlehem from I-78.

Most of the abandoned Reading Railroad right-of-way that was to serve as the alignment for the South Side Spur became the South Bethlehem Greenway, a multi-use trail that opened in 2011.

These maps are from the "South Side '72" plan developed by planning firm Gruen Associates.

  1. The first map shows the South Side Spur from the new Hill-to-Hill Bridge, the proposed interchange with Constitution Drive, and the routing between Third Street and Fourth Street.

  1. The second map shows the interchange connecting to the new Minsi Trail Bridge, as well as access to the Bethlehem Steel plant.

  1. The third map shows the connections to PA 412 (Hellertown Road) and I-78 in the area of Saucon Park.

(Maps by Gruen Associates / Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.)

SOURCES: "Spur Route Cloverleafs, Pupil Walkway at Nitschmann Get Bethlehem Backing," The Morning Call (12/17/1963); "Catasauqua Road, 14th Avenue Spans First To Be Worked on Spur Route," The Morning Call (3/17/1966); "Packard Built in 1889 Opens New Spur Route," The (Lehigh University) Brown and White (11/21/1967); South Side '76 Plan Bethlehem, Gruen Associates (1972); "New Minsi Trail Bridge," The Morning Call (11/26/1984); "More Work Sought on Hill-to-Hill Bridge," The Morning Call (3/20/1985); "For Many of Revolution's Wounded and Dying Soldiers, Bethlehem Was Last Stop" by Frank Whelan, The Morning Call (2/10/1991); "History's Headlines: Bethlehem's Hill-to-Hill Bridge," WFMZ-TV (9/25/2015); "Lights Out on Route 378 in Bethlehem: Has Anyone Noticed?" by Sara K. Satullo, The Express-Times (2/27/2017); Lehigh University; Steve Alpert; Jeff Kitsko; Alex Nitzman; Scott Oglesby.

  • PA 378 shield by Steve Anderson.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.





  • Bethlehem Spur Route exit list by Steve Anderson.

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