AN EAST-WEST EXPRESSWAY THROUGH DELAWARE COUNTY: As early as 1947, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission proposed a new expressway route westerly from the Cobbs Creek Expressway in Upper Darby. The route, which was to extend west through Delaware County, may have provided access to the proposed "western circumferential route" (now known as I-476).

In 1957, the Philadelphia Urban Traffic and Transportation Board, a predecessor agency to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), devised plans to convert the existing Baltimore Pike into an expressway through Delaware County, and ultimately into Chester County. It was to serve as a radial route that would ultimately connect to the Cobbs Creek and Crosstown expressways within the city of Philadelphia, forming a continuous east-west corridor.

Three years later, in 1960, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways announced plans for an six-lane, east-west expressway through Delaware County that was to connect the proposed Cobbs Creek Expressway (I-695) and the West Philadelphia (52nd Street) Expressway (US 1) at the Philadelphia city line with the Mid-County Expressway / "Blue Route" (I-476) in Marple Township. The Lansdowne Expressway, which was designed was to relieve congestion along Baltimore Pike and West Chester Pike (PA 3), was to be constructed between these two existing east-west corridors through Lansdowne and Drexel Hill. Two alternative western termini were proposed as follows:

  • Early proposals had the Lansdowne Expressway routed along the existing US 1 (State Road) through Springfield, and continuing south and west of the Mid-County Expressway (I-476) into Chester County.

  • Later proposals had the Lansdowne Expressway terminating at a new semi-directional "T" interchange with I-476 (near milepost 7) in Springfield. For two miles south of the new interchange, US 1 would have been dually signed with I-476 to EXIT 5 (US 1 / Media Bypass).

The Lansdowne Expressway may have had the US 1 designation, since it was to connect the proposed West Philadelphia Expressway with the proposed Media Bypass.

By 1967, the Lansdowne Expressway appeared to be on its way to reality. In a letter to the Lansdowne-Upper Darby Fair Housing Council, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways addressed concerns over property acquisition and relocation as follows:

The Department of Highways has a relocation assistance section in each of its district offices. The prime duty of the people in this section is to assist displaced persons in obtaining new quarters. The Department also pays the reasonable costs for moving the personal property of owners and tenants alike... All efforts will be made to assist the persons displaced in the project in question… All persons will be notified in sufficient time if and when the road project becomes a reality.

That year, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways commissioned the engineering design firms Turnpike Engineers, Inc. for the roadway and landscaping, and Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendoff to design bridges and interchanges for the expressway. The expressway would have required the condemnation of 200 homes and 24 businesses, mostly in Upper Darby, Lansdowne, and Yeadon. To minimize environmental impact, the "natural beauty of the creek valley would be maintained by selectively thinning wooded areas," according to consulting engineer Ross Ritter, while the expressway itself would be designed with parkway-like features such as natural forested barriers.

In 1969, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways and the DVRPC recommended construction of the Lansdowne Expressway as a relief route to the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) and the Delaware Expressway (I-95). The two agencies scheduled the 5.9-mile-long, $53 million route, which was to fill in a large east-west gap in the regional expressway system, for completion by 1985, or 13 years later than the originally scheduled completion date. Since it was not an Interstate highway, the Lansdowne Expressway was to be funded by the Federal and state governments under a 50-50 formula.
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One year later, transportation consultants Alan M. Vorhees and Associates released the "South Central Transportation Study," a series of recommendations regarding the proposed Crosstown Expressway and connecting routes. While the report urged against construction of the full-length Crosstown Expressway, it did advocate construction of the Lansdowne and Cobbs Creek expressways, leading to a "Grays Ferry Spur" (a vestige of the Crosstown Expressway). Specifically, the Lansdowne Expressway was to be a key component of improving access between Center City Philadelphia and the western suburbs.

THE DEMISE OF THE LANSDOWNE: The early 1970s marked a period of large-scale changes in highway planning. In 1973, environmental laws became retroactively applicable to previously approved highway projects, and consequently, the early Lansdowne Expressway studies were made null and void. The environmental impact process gave opponents the ammunition they needed to defeat the expressway.

Ultimately, it was the untimely demise of two other expressways - the Cobbs Creek and the Crosstown - that killed the Lansdowne Expressway. In 1974, city and state officials killed plans for the two connecting highways in Philadelphia, and sought Federal Interstate trade-in funds for mass transit. In the absence of these two expressways, constructing the Lansdowne Expressway did not appear feasible.

The final death knell for the Lansdowne Expressway came in 1977, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) halted all funding for proposed highway projects, The move effectively killed many other unbuilt expressways in the Philadelphia area.

SOURCES: "Philadelphia Expressway System," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1947); "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); "Expressway Appears Certain After Hearing," News of Delaware County (4/05/1967); "Relocation Resulting from Highway Construction in Eastern Delaware County," Delaware County Health and Welfare Council (1967); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); "Crosstown Link Still Just a Plan After 23 Years" by John F. Clancy and Gerald McKelvey, The Philadelphia Inquirer (6/22/1970); "South Central Transportation Study," Alan M. Vorhees and Associates (1970); "$85 Million Set To Update Area Transit System," Philadelphia Daily News (6/22/1974); "Interstate 476, Mid-County Expressway from I-76 to I-95: Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1983); "Schuylkill Carries the Load of Many Roads Left Unbuilt" by Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/19/1984); Temple University-Urban Archives; Chris Blaney; Ahmad Jamil Hassan; Scott Kozel; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith; Gene Yao.

  • US 1 shield by Ralph Herman.


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