PART OF THE CENTER CITY LOOP: Plans for the Crosstown Expressway were devised as early as 1930, when the Philadelphia City Planning Commission made references to a Center City "ring road" that would provide for smoother traffic flow. While specific mention was made in this report of a route along Vine Street, no specific mention was made of the route south of the central business district.

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In 1947, Robert B. Mitchell, the executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, recommended the construction of a Center City highway loop as one of the elements for a restructured city. The Crosstown Expressway was to be the southern part of the Center City loop that also comprised of the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), the Delaware Expressway (I-95) and the Vine Street Expressway (I-676). At the time, the proposed Center City highway loop was designed to solve not only chronic congestion, but also the threatened obsolescence of the business center.

Seeking to promote transportation issues on the regional level, Mitchell founded the Urban Traffic and Transportation Board (UTTB) in 1953, and as its executive director, formalized his proposal for the Center City loop. Under his proposal, the east-west Crosstown Expressway was to be located between Lombard Street and South Street.

When the expressway was first proposed, South Street was a thriving local business center. East of Broad Street, South Street's merchants served a mixed ethnic clientele. West of Broad Street, South Street's stores and jazz bars served the area's black residents, many of who had recently arrived from the South.

THE CROSSTOWN BECOMES AN INTERSTATE: Support for the Crosstown Expressway solidified among planning and transportation officials with the 1956 Federal Highway Aid Act, which give birth to the Interstate highway system. With the promise of 90-10 Federal-state financing, the Crosstown Expressway - and other expressways in Philadelphia - moved one step closer to reality.

By 1957, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways and the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) approved the route as part of the Interstate highway system. The Crosstown Expressway, and its extension, the Cobbs Creek Expressway, was among the 1,500 miles of new urban routes added that year to the original Interstate highway system. In 1959, the Crosstown-Cobbs Creek route received a single designation: I-695.

DECIDING UPON A ROUTE: Soon after this approval, engineering consultants Wilbur Smith and Associates prepared a route planning report for the Pennsylvania Department of Highways and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The following routes were considered:

  • Double-decked, elevated highway along the Washington Avenue corridor
  • Depressed highway along the Lombard Street-South Street corridor
  • Depressed highway along the South Street-Bainbridge Street corridor

From a community standpoint, the Washington Avenue corridor was most amenable, since fewer homes and businesses would have to be condemned along the 120-foot-wide avenue. However, the corridor offered the least amount of traffic relief, and threatened historical buildings such as Old Swede's Church. Furthermore, the railroad line that runs along the middle of Washington Avenue would have to be relocated, possibly leading to the loss of industrial jobs.

Future efforts focused on routing the expressway along South Street. Most maps showed the proposed 2.8-mile-long Crosstown Expressway along the Lombard Street-South Street corridor originally proposed by Mitchell, with Lombard Street serving as the westbound service road and South Street serving as the eastbound service road. However, the Wilbur Smith report recommended shifting the alignment south to the South Street-Bainbridge Street corridor.

Interchanges were to be located at the following locations:

  • I-95 / Delaware Expressway (semi-directional "T")
  • South 5th Street (partial-diamond, eastbound exit, westbound entrance)
  • PA 611 / South Broad Street (full-diamond)
  • South 22nd Street (partial-diamond, westbound exit, eastbound entrance)

West of 22nd Street, a half-mile-long spur was to continue northwest along South Street to the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) at the current EXIT 346A (South Street). This spur was to carry westbound Crosstown traffic to the westbound Schuylkill, and eastbound Schuylkill traffic to the eastbound Crosstown. The mainline Crosstown Expressway was to continue southwest along Grays Ferry Avenue, where I-695 was to continue west of the Schuylkill Expressway (past the current EXIT 346B) as the Cobbs Creek Expressway. It was to handle all other movements between I-76 and I-695.

According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the Crosstown Expressway was expected to handle 120,000 vehicles per day (AADT) from the Schuylkill Expressway east to Broad Street (PA 611), and 95,000 vehicles per day from Broad Street east to the Delaware Expressway.

In 1964, the consulting firm of Modjeski and Masters prepared a preliminary engineering report for the Crosstown Expressway. Their proposal, along a South Street alignment, was for an eight-lane depressed expressway. One justification was that "the Crosstown Expressway will serve as an effective buffer zone separating the proposed redevelopment areas to the north and the incompatible land usages to the south." This reasoning mirrored that of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission's "Center City Comprehensive Plan," which referred to the Crosstown Expressway as the southern boundary of the central business district. Finally, the Crosstown Expressway was to serve as an important artery for the city's planned 1976 bicentennial celebration.

The "Center City Comprehensive Plan" developed by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in 1961 shows the expressway layout for Center City Philadelphia, with the Crosstown Expressway (I-695) running along the left side of the map. The Crosstown Expressway was to form the southern boundary for Center City development. The map also shows that the Crosstown Expressway was canceled in 1974. (Map by Philadelphia City Planning Commission.)

PRO- AND ANTI-EXPRESSWAY FORCES CLASH: Later that year, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways held initial public hearings on the routes and preliminary designs of the Crosstown, Cobbs Creek and Lansdowne expressways. Several alternative schemes for the Crosstown Expressway were offered, including (for the first time) a cover over the highway on which housing and recreational facilities would be constructed.

Over the next three years, neither the city nor the state took action on any of the Crosstown proposals. During this time, priority was given to planning and constructing the Delaware Expressway, leaving few funds left over for other expressways. Nevertheless, expectations remained that the Crosstown Expressway would eventually be built, and neighborhood groups in the affected area paid little attention to the proposal.

This complacency changed in 1967, when the Pennsylvania Department of Highways placed the $64 million Crosstown Expressway on its six-year construction program. Public opposition to the expressway, until then subdued, became vociferous. The Delaware Valley Housing Association, a non-profit group headed by W. Wilson Goode (who later served as mayor from 1984 to 1991), was outspoken in its opposition to the Crosstown Expressway.

Emily Achtenberg, a spokesperson for the association, opined as follows:

While we believe that the expressway has serious shortcomings from a transportation standpoint and would create a racial barrier between Center City and areas to the south, our overriding concern is with the city's inability to re-house adequately the thousands of low-income families whom the Crosstown would displace.

A new organization, the Citizens' Committee to Preserve and Develop the Crosstown Community (CCPDCC), unified the mostly white residents in the townhouses of Society Hill and Rittenhouse Square just north of the proposed expressway, and the mostly black residents along the route of the expressway. The CCPDCC charged racial discrimination in the selection of the route (e.g., "effective buffer zone"), failure to prove a need for a road that would bring more cars to the traffic-glutted Center City, and failure to provide an adequate plan to relocate several thousand people who would be uprooted.

In an interview with phillyroads.com, Joel Spivak, a resident of Queen Village, related his experience in organizing community support against the expressway as follows:

I moved to Queen Village in 1969. We all lived in the area because it was cheap to live there... By that time, the city of Philadelphia, which wanted to build the expressway, proposed a number of initiatives. Some groups were for it, and some were against it. The groups who were against it formed a coalition among different neighborhoods... Each neighborhood group did what it could… I headed the neighborhood group in Queen Village. We all organized at City Hall… wearing buttons like "Houses Not Highways."

George T. Dukes, the founder of the CCPDCC, challenged state highway officials to come up with a better plan in the following letter:

If the planners can prove a need for a superhighway along South Street, they should put a cover on it and build on the cover the homes, parks and other things that would bind people together, rather than create an open ditch that would keep people apart.

In response, state highway officials contended that the cost of constructing a covered Crosstown Expressway was prohibitive. (However, citizen groups in Society Hill were successful in convincing highway officials to construct the Delaware Expressway with a landscaped cover.) Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways purchased rights-of-way along South Street in preparation for the expressway. Over time, uncertainty about whether the freeway would be built ravaged property values and contributed to a serious decay of the area.

CROSSTOWN CONFUSION: The divisive Crosstown Expressway issue played an important role in the 1967 mayoral race. Influenced by the strident opposition, as well as by a letter from Robert B. Mitchell (the developer of the original plans) urging officials to abandon the project "in light of changed conditions," Mayor James Tate changed course and dropped his support of the expressway. When three of his cabinet members City Managing Director Fred T. Corleto, Planning Director Edmund N. Bacon and Streets Commissioner David M. Smallwood tried to insist on pressing ahead with the expressway, Tate said, "Let the people have a victory."

While Tate asserted that the Crosstown Expressway was "dying a slow death," state and Federal highway officials continued to explore alternatives. Supporters of the Crosstown Expressway contended that other expressways such as the Cobbs Creek were contingent upon construction of the Crosstown as proposed, and that the city would lose funds for these highways if the Crosstown were not constructed. New Federal laws permitting substantially increased payments for expressway-related relocation buttressed their case.

KYW-TV (Channel 3) supported the expressway in the following editorial:

We urge a careful study by the city to establish whether or not displaced families can be protected. If they can, then this essential expressway project should be built.

In the fall of 1968, state and Federal authorities approved construction of the interchange between the Crosstown Expressway and the Delaware Expressway. The imminent construction of the Crosstown prompted the CCPDCC to reach a broader spectrum of decision makers, including Governor Shafer, as well as officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the spring of 1969, John A. Volpe, the new transportation secretary under President Nixon, invited members of the CCPDCC to present their case before the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The persistence of the CCPDCC appeared to pay off. Not long after the CCPDCC appeals, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways formally removed the Crosstown Expressway from its six-year plan (although there still appeared a line item for an equivalent sum under the category of "controversial freeways"). However, the CCPDCC received a setback when the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, a long-time supporter of the expressway, convinced Mayor Tate to reconsider his decision not to have the expressway built.

By the spring of 1970, the issue of urban renewal funding along the South Street-Crosstown corridor became the subject of considerable controversy between the city, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the CCPDCC. The HUD notified the city that the South Street-Crosstown corridor would be eligible for urban renewal funds if the city committed itself to produce a decision on building the expressway, whose cost had risen to $85 million.

THE SOUTH CENTRAL TRANSPORTATION STUDY: In the fall of 1970, Alan M. Vorhees and Associates, an influential transportation and planning consulting group, presented its findings on before the Mayor's Policy Committee on the Crosstown Expressway as follows:

  • The full-length Crosstown Expressway through South Central Philadelphia would not be a worthwhile investment relative to other regional transportation improvements. It would have an unfavorable benefit-cost ratio (that is, benefits would be less than costs).

  • The Crosstown Expressway would not serve the regional demand for through traffic. The direction of desired traffic movements from southwest to northeast, and the alternative routes available to absorb these desired movements, leaves a crosstown expressway in a poor competitive position. Less than 25 percent of the expressway traffic would be through traffic. Therefore, the expressway is not a necessary element with respect to southwest highway improvements.

  • The Crosstown Expressway would attract substantial numbers of trips into Center City from the southwest. About 50 percent of Crosstown Expressway traffic would be destined to Center City. Alternative methods to provide adequate levels of Center City service are available, providing a higher benefit-cost ratio without the need for a full-length expressway. A combined program of a new grade-separated Grays Ferry Spur (an extension of the proposed Cobbs Creek Expressway along Grays Ferry Avenue), a reconstructed Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), and arterial improvements to Grays Ferry and Washington avenues, has the most favorable benefit-cost ratio of any of the alternatives that are intended to satisfy Center City-bound highway trip movements.

  • The Crosstown Expressway would require the relocation of between 850 and 2,050 households (that is, between 2,900 and 5,300 residents), depending on the size and the location of the expressway. It would be extremely difficult to adequately relocate these households because of the size and composition of the caseloads, and because of the overriding difficulties presently being experienced by the city in attempting to solve its housing problems. The Crosstown Expressway would also cause serious injury to the functioning of communities in South Central Philadelphia.

  • The Grays Ferry Spur and Schuylkill Expressway improvements, along with complementary transit and parking improvements, would involve a substantially smaller relocation load and a less severe social impact. These improvements would facilitate the growth of Center City while adequately serving transportation and access needs from the west and southwest.

In addition to the above-mentioned improvements, the Vorhees report called for the construction of the Cobbs Creek Expressway (I-695), which was to provide a connection southwest to Philadelphia International Airport, and the Lansdowne Expressway (US 1), which was to provide a connection west to Delaware County and the Mid-County Expressway / "Blue Route" (I-476).

In 1972, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission announced plans for "Southbridge," a comprehensive proposal that called for the construction of an underground Crosstown Expressway, thousands of apartments, new office space and a light-rail system. It was part of a last-ditch effort to get the expressway constructed amid charges that thousands of residents would be displaced. (Map by Philadelphia City Planning Commission and Temple University-Urban Archives.)

THE CROSSTOWN EVOLVES INTO SOUTHBRIDGE: The arrival of a new mayor in City Hall - Frank Rizzo - signaled new hope for the Crosstown Expressway. Rizzo contended that the route was needed to provide improved expressway service for Center City, and in conjunction with the Cobbs Creek Expressway, furnish access to a newly expanded Philadelphia International Airport.

On April 22, 1972, Rizzo and Bernard C. Meltzer, the chairman of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, announced plans for "Southbridge," a $750 million comprehensive urban development proposal that included an underground Crosstown Expressway. Work on the new Crosstown Expressway and Southbridge development was to begin after the bicentennial celebration in 1976, with completion scheduled for 1982.

Specific facets of the Southbridge proposal were as follows:

  • Three lanes of westbound expressway were to be constructed some 25 feet beneath South Street, while three lanes of eastbound expressway were to be buried beneath Bainbridge Street. The above-ground South and Bainbridge streets were to be three-lane service roads, linked by ramps to the expressway. Like the original Crosstown Expressway proposal, the expressway was to connect the Schuylkill and Cobbs Creek expressway to the west with the Delaware Expressway to the east. As part of I-695, the $130 million expressway portion of the project was to be 90 percent paid by the Federal government, with the rest coming from state and city funds.

  • 3,000 low-income and 7,000 middle-to-upper-income housing units were to be constructed through a mix of high-rise and low-rise apartments.

  • Approximately 2.8 million square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of commercial real estate were to be constructed. This construction was to be highlighted by two new 35-story office towers at Broad Street.

  • Several parking garages were to be constructed. The new garages would add approximately 14,000 parking spaces to the area.

  • An elevated light-rail system was to connect the linear Southbridge development with the Broad Street subway and other bus lines.

  • New green spaces were to be added, "opening up the congested area to increased amenities."

  • Controls were to be implemented for the control of air and noise pollution.

Meltzer pitched the Southbridge proposal as follows:

We must plan, envision and present, because Philadelphia needs Southbridge. If we had a few more projects of this magnitude on our drawing boards and underway, it would completely turn our city around as a place to live, work and play. Unless we get this enthusiastic support and cooperation from both the state and Federal levels, this dream and this demonstration project will never be fulfilled.

Despite promises of relocation and urban renewal, the anti-expressway forces did not budge. During presentations along the South Street corridor in the week following the Southbridge announcement, pro-expressway and anti-expressway sides waged shouting matches and (in one ugly moment) fistfights. W. Wilson Goode of the Delaware Valley Housing Association, also a longtime opponent of Mayor Rizzo, provided the following testimony:

So Southbridge, as it has been proposed, is absurd. What will we get if the Crosstown Expressway is accepted today? At best, a $200 million underground road, and an expansion of Society Hill with homes only the wealthy can afford. More likely, after displacing thousands of families, wreaking havoc with surrounding neighborhoods, destroying an irretrievable historic section, polluting the air, and congesting traffic, we will have expanses of vacant land slowly developed as capital and labor become available. What will be built will be determined by what is most profitable for developers, not the paper idea before us.

The anti-expressway coalition received key support from Governor Milton J. Shapp and Edward W. Furia, regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both of whom voiced opposition to the Southbridge project.

FINALLY, A RESOLUTION: Despite valiant attempts through the early 1970's to revive the Crosstown and Cobbs Creek expressways, city and state officials eventually gave up on such attempts. On December 19, 1973, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission officially removed the Crosstown Expressway from its long-range capital program. Early in 1974, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission also withdrew plans for the Crosstown Expressway (but kept plans for its companion, the Cobbs Creek Expressway).

On June 21, 1974, under new Federal legislation permitting the use of Interstate trade-in funds for mass transit, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) formally approved PennDOT's removal of I-695 from the Interstate highway system. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) used $85 million in Federal funds to pay for 100 commuter rail cars, 120 subway cars for the Broad Street line, 190 buses, and 110 trolleys.

By 1977, the demise of the Crosstown Expressway ultimately led to the cancellation of the Cobbs Creek and Lansdowne expressways, the feeder roads that were to connect to the Crosstown route. That year, PennDOT halted funding of all proposed highway projects.

SOURCES: "Philadelphia Expressway Program," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1947); "Loop Highways To Cut Tie-Ups Urged for Area" by James P. McFadden, The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/22/1957); Pennsylvania: Keystone of the Interstate Highway System, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia (1958); "City To Ask Further Study of Route of Crosstown Expressway Near 22nd Street" by H. James Laverty, The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (5/10/1964); "Philadelphia's Comprehensive Plan for Expressways," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1966); "Analysis of the Centralized Relocation Bureau's Crosstown Expressway Survey" by Emily Achtenberg, Delaware Valley Housing Association (April 1968); "State Drops Crosstown, Cobbs Creek Expressway Plans," The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/09/1969); "Statistics Back Need for New Expressway" by Francis M. Lordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/17/1969); "Crosstown Expressway: Editorial" by Wallace Dunlap and Kenneth T. MacDonald, KYW-TV (March 1969); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); "Expressway Construction Lags as Officials Heed Urban Outcry" by Donald Janson, The New York Times (2/15/1970); "Crosstown Link Still Just a Plan After 23 Years" by John F. Clancy and Gerald McKelvey, The Philadelphia Inquirer (6/22/1970); "Crosstown Substitute," The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/03/1970); "South Central Transportation Study," Alan M. Vorhees and Associates (1970); "The Crosstown Controversy: A Case Study" by Thomas A. Reiner, Robert J. Sugarman and Janet Scheff Reiner, University of Pennsylvania (1970); "The Philadelphia Crosstown Community," Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (1970); "City Unveils $750 Million Crosstown Corridor Plan" by Brian C. Feldman, The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (4/23/1972); "Crosstown Expressway Meeting Ends in Shouts, Fist Fights" by Dan Enoch, The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/25/1972); "Shapp Planner Challenges Southbridge" by Don Haskin, Philadelphia Daily News (4/27/1972); "Crosstown Expressway: Fact Sheet," Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1972); "Southbridge: An Urban Development Proposal," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1972); "Crosstown Is Zapped," Philadelphia Daily News (12/20/1973); "$85 Million Set To Update Area Transit System," Philadelphia Daily News (6/22/1974); Capital Program: City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1975); "Schuylkill Carries the Load of Many Roads Left Unbuilt" by Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/19/1984); "I-95 Completion Program for Philadelphia's Central Waterfront," Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1985); "House Divided: Philadelphia's Controversial Crosstown Expressway" by David Clow, Society for American City and Regional Planning History (1989); "South Street's Renaissance Plan May Gain New Life" by Linda K. Harris, The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/31/2000); Temple University-Urban Archives; E.C. Ballard; John Hay; Jeff Kitsko; Scott Kozel; Scott Oglesby; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith; Joel Spivak.

  • I-695 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

CROSSTOWN EXPRESSWAY LINKS:

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