EARLY PLANS FOR A MANAYUNK PARKWAY: In 1932, the Regional Planning Federation (the predecessor agency to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) proposed a parkway system around the Philadelphia area similar to that constructed by Robert Moses. Like the Moses parkways in New York, the four-lane parkways were to feature controlled access, stone-arch bridges, timber lightposts and natural vegetation.
The proposed riverfront parkway along the east bank of the Schuylkill River was to connect Fairmount Park in Philadelphia with Norristown. However, without a "power broker" like Moses to coordinate efforts, the parkway system never came to fruition.
PROVIDING RELIEF FOR THE SCHUYLKILL EXPRESSWAY: As early as 1960, the capacity and safety problems of the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) had become chronic. That year, the Keystone Automobile Club (the predecessor to AAA Mid-Atlantic) recommended construction of a new four-lane expressway on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, paralleling the route of the existing Schuylkill Expressway on the west bank of the river. The "east bank expressway" recommendation came following a state-sponsored study of the chronic congestion on the Schuylkill Expressway, which had just been completed in 1959.
In 1962, the Pennsylvania Highway Department formally announced plans for the Manayunk Expressway, a 16-mile-long route extending from Plymouth Meeting to South Philadelphia. Upon the announcement, William Berry, vice president of the Keystone Automobile Club, praised the state for its foresight as follows:
We believe that improvements now being planned to ease the flow of traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, together with construction of the Manayunk Expressway on the other side of the river, will effectively solve traffic and congestion problems.
The $30 million expressway was to be a state route (it did not have a known designation), and therefore its construction cost was to be borne 50-50 between the state and Federal governments. It was to be constructed along the following alignment:
Beginning in Plymouth Meeting, the Manayunk Expressway was to provide connections to the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276), the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Northeast Extension and the Mid-County Expressway / Blue Route (I-476).
Continuing south past Conshohocken, the expressway was to veer southeast along the east bank of the Schuylkill River through the industrial communities of Roxborough and Manayunk. For a distance of approximately four miles, the expressway was to utilize the old Manayunk Canal bed.
Just past Gustine Lake, an interchange was to have been constructed between the Manayunk Expressway and the Roosevelt Expressway (US 1).
As the Schuylkill River winds its way through Fairmount Park, the Manayunk Expressway was to utilize the right-of-way for Kelly (East River) Drive. However, David Smallwood, the Philadelphia streets commissioner, opposed the use of Kelly Drive for the expressway, and instead proposed a route along Ridge Avenue and North 33rd Street (US 13), just east of Fairmount Park.
In Center City Philadelphia, an interchange was to have been constructed between the Manayunk Expressway and the Vine Street Expressway (I-676 and US 30).
The Manayunk Expressway was to terminate at the Schuylkill Expressway near the current EXIT 346B (Grays Ferry Avenue / University Avenue) in South Philadelphia. Additional connections may have been provided for the Crosstown-Cobbs Creek expressway complex (I-695).
This map shows the route of the proposed Manayunk Expressway along Kelly (East River) Drive and the Manayunk Canal. (Map by William Streckfuss from The Philadelphia Inquirer archives.)
REVIVING THE MANAYUNK EXPRESSWAY? However, the Keystone Automobile Club refused to let the Manayunk Expressway proposal die. Throughout the late 1960's, the organization continued to appeal for construction of the parallel route as congestion on the Schuylkill Expressway continued to worsen.
Henry L. Moffett, who succeeded Berry at the Keystone Automobile Club, said the following about the need for the Manayunk Expressway:
It has been obvious for years that the only truly realistic solution to our highway problem is the planning and construction of a parallel expressway on the opposite side of the Schuylkill.
However, when Mayor James Tate declared Kelly (East River) Drive a "scenic highway," he effectively killed plans for the Manayunk Expressway in the city of Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, plans for the expressway managed to survive north and west of the city line. In 1969, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) devised plans for a truncated highway - then proposed as the "North Shore Expressway" - along the east bank of the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County. The 2.4-mile-long, $12 million route was to connect the I-276 / I-476 interchange in Plymouth Meeting with the (unbuilt) Ten-Mile-Loop Expressway, providing a parallel route to Germantown Pike. This long-range proposal, which was originally scheduled for completion in 1985, was ultimately dropped by the DVRPC.
SOURCES: Regional Plan of the Philadelphia Tri-State District, Regional Planning Federation (1932); "16-Mile Expressway Planned on East Side of the Schuylkill," The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (2/01/1962); "16-Mile Expressway on East Side of Schuylkill Planned by State," Keystone Motorist-Keystone Automobile Club (February 1962); "Philadelphia's Comprehensive Plan for Expressways," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1966); "Expressway Plan Offered," The Philadelphia Inquirer (10/31/1969); "Schuylkill Expressway: The Hardening Artery" by Louis E. Keefer, The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/23/1969); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); Anthony Panichelli.