This 2002 photo shows the Woodhaven Road Expressway (PA 63) approaching its eastern terminus at the Delaware Expressway (I-95). (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
A SPUR TO THE FAR NORTHEAST: In 1954, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission approved plans for Woodhaven Road, originally planned as a six-lane expressway spur connecting the proposed Delaware Expressway (I-95) in Bensalem, Bucks County with Lower Moreland Township, Montgomery County. The Woodhaven Road Expressway was to primarily serve the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia, and provide a connection between Roosevelt Boulevard (US 1) and I-95.
Work on the expressway began in 1962. The first section of Woodhaven Road from I-95 (Delaware Expressway) northwest to US 13 opened to traffic one year later. In 1966, the expressway was completed to its current stub end at Evans Street, just northwest of Roosevelt Boulevard (US 1). The expressway provides six lanes of traffic from I-95 northwest to the full-diamond interchange at Franklin Mills Boulevard-Millbrook Road, and four lanes northwest to the Roosevelt Boulevard cloverleaf interchange.
According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the Woodhaven Road Expressway carries approximately 60,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
RECENT PROJECTS ON WOODHAVEN ROAD: In 1996, EXIT 35 (PA 63 / Woodhaven Road) on the Delaware Expressway (I-95) was reconstructed to provide access to a new park-and-ride lot serving the SEPTA Cornwells Heights railroad station on the R7-Northeast Corridor line. New separate access from EXIT 36 (Cornwells Heights) was constructed directly to the park-and-ride lot.
In September 2002, PennDOT began a $10 million project to rebuild Woodhaven Road from US 13 in Bensalem Township northwest to the Evans Street terminus in Northeast Philadelphia. The project including rebuilding the shoulders and median, rehabilitating the deteriorating concrete pavement, upgrading streetlights, and resurfacing. Crews repaired and resurfaced five bridges, and erected new sound barriers along the expressway. The project was completed in May 2004.
This 2004 photo shows the eastbound Woodhaven Road (PA 63) at the Knights Road interchange in Northeast Philadelphia. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)
THE MISSING LINK TO MONTGOMERY COUNTY: For more than three decades, traffic exiting from Woodhaven Road has moved onto Evans Street for one block, then onto Byberry Road, a mostly residential street that has become a major east-west route by default. Only two lanes wide, Byberry Road handles as much as 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT). The rapid development of the area since the original expressway segment was built, combined with the 1989 opening of the Franklin Mills outlet mall, has brought unforeseen congestion along Byberry Road. It is in this context that the proposal to construct the Woodhaven Road Extension - which remains on long-range city and state transportation plans - has been revived in recent years.
According to plans developed by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and the DVRPC, the Woodhaven Road Extension was to continue northwest to the intersection of Byberry Road and Philmont Avenue in Lower Moreland Township, Montgomery County (near Forest Hills Cemetery). A full-diamond interchange was to be constructed at Bustleton Avenue (PA 532). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the extension in 1968.
In preparation for the 2.3-mile-long extension, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) condemned land in the community of Somerton, and in the process, tore down 28 homes. In draft environmental impact statements written between 1977 and 1979, PennDOT contended that the Woodhaven Road Extension would not have adverse effects on the environment, and subsequently, the FHWA permitted construction. However, given the fiscally restrictive environment of the late 1970's, as well as intense opposition from homeowners in Lower Moreland Township, who feared that traffic from the western terminus of the expressway would be dumped onto local roads, PennDOT halted all work on the project.
When economic conditions improved in the early 1980's, PennDOT revived the Woodhaven Road Extension, and presented its original findings to Federal authorities. This time, however, Federal authorities rejected the findings. Because of new development in the area, and the onset of stricter environmental and community impact regulations, the FHWA mandated that PennDOT develop a new environmental impact statement for the project.
In 1988, relief along Byberry Road appeared in sight when PennDOT announced that it would build the first stage of the project, a 1.5-mile-long, four-lane expressway extension west to Bustleton Avenue. The extension was to open by 1992, but objections from the Westwood subdivision near Bustleton Avenue (where PennDOT had acquired land for the right-of-way in the 1970's) upheld the project. Further northwest, officials in Lower Moreland Township warned that Byberry Road and Philmont Avenue would not be able to handle the increased traffic from the proposed terminus if the second stage of the project, a 0.8-mile-long extension, were completed.
Despite these protests, most residents continued to push for the Woodhaven Road Extension. In the absence of the extension, residents argued that the parallel Byberry Road would need to be expanded, resulting in a loss of historic properties adjoining the road. Furthermore, heavy traffic has caused the Byberry Road bridge over the CSX-Conrail tracks to deteriorate.
This map shows the alternative for the extension of the Woodhaven Road Expressway (PA 63). Under this alternative, three local roads -- Byberry Road, County Line Road, and Huntingdon Pike (PA 232) -- would also be widened. The alternative also includes a number of intersection improvements. (Map by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.)
REVIVING THE WOODHAVEN EXTENSION: With local support growing among residents and local officials for the Woodhaven Road Extension, both PennDOT (which removed the extension from long-range plans in 1996) and the DVRPC have recently recommended its construction as part of its region-wide transportation improvement plan.
During public hearings held throughout 2002 and 2003, PennDOT presented the following five alternatives:
ALTERNATIVE 1 ("no build"): This alternative assumes no large-scale improvements, except for the replacement of the temporary bridge along Byberry Road that spans the CSX-Conrail tracks, under mandate from the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
ALTERNATIVE 2 (Byberry Road upgrade): Under this alternative, Byberry Road would be widened from two to four lanes along the existing right-of-way. This project would include replacing the CSX-Conrail bridge, and acquiring additional right-of-way (possibly including residential properties) along Byberry Road.
ALTERNATIVE 3 (Woodhaven Extension to Philmont Avenue): Under this alternative, Woodhaven Road would be extended as a four-lane freeway along the existing unused right-of-way, with full control of access and an interchange at Bustleton Avenue (PA 532), terminating at Philmont Avenue-Byberry Road. Bridges would be built at Bustleton Avenue and Philmont Avenue. In addition, the existing Byberry Road would be widened to four lanes west to Huntingdon Pike (PA 232).
ALTERNATEIVE 4 (Woodhaven Extension to Bustleton Avenue): Under this alternative, Woodhaven Road would be extended as a four-lane freeway along the existing unused right-of-way, terminating at a trumpet interchange at Bustleton Avenue (PA 532). A bridge would be built at Bustleton Avenue. Ramps would be also provided to and from Byberry Road.
ALTERNATIVE 5 (Woodhaven Extension to Bustleton Avenue, modified): Same as alternative 4, except that a two-lane, undivided road would be extended from the end of the freeway west of Philmont Avneue to Byberry Road. There would be an at-grade intersection with Philmont Avenue. At the end of the extended PA 63, Byberry Road would be widened to four lanes north to Pine Road. This "reduced impact" alternative was introduced in March 2004.
Under all "build" alternatives, local roads such as Byberry Road, County Line Road and Huntingdon Pike (PA 232) would be widened, and intersections would be improved. The project would require the acquisition of between 19 and 34 acres of woodlands, as well as the construction of intermittent stream crossings and culverts. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised concerns about wetlands acquisitions, it said the project was acceptable from an air quality perspective because it did not raise pollution levels beyond satisfactory levels.
The extension, estimated to cost as much as $53 million for the "Woodhaven-Philmont" alternative, would be 80 percent paid by Federal funds, with the remainder paid by state and local funds. PennDOT originally planned to complete its final environmental impact study by mid-2004, and final design work by late 2005. However, ongoing budget constraints have caused PennDOT once again to "re-evaluate" the project, on which construction would not begin until well after 2010.
EXTENDING TO DOYLESTOWN AND BEYOND? Beginning in the late 1950's, the Philadelphia Urban Traffic and Transportation Board, a predecessor agency to DVRPC, proposed extending the route north into Bucks County as a "611 Relief Route" expressway. Continuing through the 1960's, 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. (It is not known if the expressway was to carry either the PA 33 or PA 63 designation.)
This 2000 photo shows the abrupt end of Woodhaven Road at Evans Street in Northeast Philadelphia. During the past five decades, there have been aborted attempts to extend the expressway into Montgomery County. (Photo by Alex Nitzman.)
EXTEND THE EXPRESSWAY: PennDOT should adopt "Alternative 3" that would extend the Woodhaven Road Expressway northwest to Philmont Avenue and Byberry Road in Lower Moreland Township.
SOURCES: "Loop Highways To Cut Tie-Ups Urged for Area" by James P. McFadden, The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/22/1957); "Philadelphia's Comprehensive Plan for Expressways," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1966); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); "Schuylkill Carries the Load of Many Roads Left Unbuilt" by Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/19/1984); "Woodhaven Road Announcement Chagrins Group," The Philadelphia Inquirer (9/11/1988); "Plans for Woodhaven Road Draw Debate" by Burr Van Atta, The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/19/1989); "A Threat or Needed Relief?" by Lea Sitton, The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/01/1993); "PennDOT Cutbacks Will Hit Area Hard" by Pam Louwagie, Drew Weaver and Robert Moran, The Philadelphia Inquirer (2/14/1996); "Barriers Will Quiet Woodhaven Road" by Kelly Madsen, The Northeast News Gleaner (7/01/2000); "Is Woodhaven Road Extension Just Around the Corner?" by William Kenny, The Northeast Times (5/30/2001); "Lower Merion Not So Hot for Woodhaven Road Extension" by William Kenny, The Northeast Times (6/13/2001); "Woodhaven Extension Is Still in Tow" by William Kenny, The Northeast Times (7/04/2001); "Roosevelt Boulevard Corridor Study," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (2001); "Decision Day on Fate of Freeway" by Jere Downs, The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/29/2002); "PennDOT To Unveil New Woodhaven Plan" by William Kenny, The Northeast Times (3/04/2004); Jeff Kitsko; Scott Kozel; Alex Nitzman; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith.
PA 63 and PA 33 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.