This 2005 photo shows the westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276) at EXIT 334 (I-476) in Plymouth Meeting. At this interchange, which was reconstructed in the early 1990's, motorists can take I-476 south along the "Blue Route" to Chester, or I-476 north along the Northeast Extension to Clarks Summit. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
A PLANNED EXTENSION TO NEW JERSEY: The groundwork for the Delaware River Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was laid down in 1947, when the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) proposed a northern circumferential route through the Philadelphia suburbs along the current route of I-276. With Federal funds for the Interstate route difficult to obtain in the immediate postwar era, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) eventually adopted the proposed route.
One year later, an indenture issued for the PTC permitted extensions to the original 160-mile-long toll road. Under this indenture, the PTC financed the Philadelphia Extension (from Carlisle east to Valley Forge) and the Western Extension (from the Pittsburgh suburbs west to the Ohio Turnpike).
When the 100-mile-long Philadelphia Extension was completed east to Valley Forge in November 1950, PTC officials and engineers studied a 33-mile-long Delaware River Extension to connect the Pennsylvania Turnpike with the New Jersey Turnpike, which was slated for completion in November 1951. Connecting the two turnpikes would provide not only a bypass for the Philadelphia area, but also an important connection in the "eastern turnpike complex" between the Northeast and the Midwest.
In June 1951, Governor John S. Fine signed a bill to construct the Delaware River Extension, and in a joint agreement with New Jersey officials, to provide the necessary connection to the New Jersey Turnpike just south of Bordentown. The PTC financed the new extension with a $65 million bond issue. On November 20, 1952, less than three months after the bonds were sold, construction began on the extension.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: With grades held at a maximum of two percent and curves held at a minimum of four degrees, the Delaware River Extension continued the high design standards set by the Philadelphia Extension. The dual roadways were each 24 feet wide (providing two 12-foot-wide travel lanes in each direction), and were separated by a 10-foot-wide sod strip. On the outside of each roadway was a 10-foot-wide shoulder of hard-packed waste deposits retrieved from abandoned iron mines. The project also involved the construction of dozens of bridges, the longest of which was the 1,224-foot-long Schuylkill River Bridge.
Work began at the former eastern terminus at Valley Forge, which was reconstructed to permit construction of the extension and links to the Schuylkill Expressway. On August 21, 1954, the initial 13 miles of the Delaware River Extension opened from EXIT 326 (I-76 / Schuylkill Expressway) in Valley Forge east to EXIT 339 (PA 309 / Fort Washington Expressway) in Fort Washington. On October 16, 1954, in an opening ceremony shortened by Hurricane Hazel, officials opened an additional 19 miles from EXIT 339 east to EXIT 358 (US 13) in Bristol Township.
While the new turnpike extension provided traffic relief through Philadelphia's northern suburbs, the link was not yet complete. Construction of the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge and its approach roads was delayed until a separate $223 million bond issue covering both the bridge and the proposed Northeast Extension was sold. Soon after the indenture was issued, officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey broke ground on the link. The $27.2 million Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge opened to traffic on May 23, 1956.
INTERSTATE DESIGNATIONS: In 1956, the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension became eligible for inclusion in the Interstate highway system. One year later, the extension had a preliminary (unofficial) designation of I-80S, but by November 1958, the route received the official designation of I-280, connecting to the west at the mainline turnpike and the Schuylkill Expressway (both carrying the I-80S designation). However, the I-280 designation was considered inappropriate because its parent route, I-80, was more than 100 miles to the north.
In 1964, when the mainline Turnpike and the Schuylkill Expressway were re-designated I-76, the Delaware River Extension was re-designated I-276. This came after the defeat of a proposal by some Pennsylvania officials to designate the Delaware River Extension as part of I-76, which would have made the length of the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike I-76 in its entirety.
This 2008 photo shows the eastbound Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276) under reconstruction in King of Prussia. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS: In its first three decades, traffic counts on the 33-mile-long Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension through Montgomery and Bucks counties had doubled to 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT). However, there had not been any capacity improvements during that time.
This changed in 1987, when a two-year project to widen 13.5 miles of the turnpike from Fort Washington east to Trevose was completed. The $120 million project, which was comprised of several contracts, entailed widening the turnpike from four to six lanes, and included improvements to EXIT 339 (PA 309), EXIT 343 (PA 611) and EXIT 351 (US 1). It was the first project completed under the newly enacted "Act 61," or the Turnpike Organization, Expansion and Toll Road Conversion Act.
In 1989, work began on the reconstruction of EXIT 333 (Ridge Pike) and EXIT 334 (I-476) in Plymouth Meeting, the largest interchange in the Pennsylvania Turnpike system. The Mid-County interchange project was to connect the Delaware River and Northeast extensions of the Pennsylvania Turnpike with Ridge Pike and the new Mid-County Expressway / "Blue Route" (I-476). For the new EXIT 334, a new 17-lane toll plaza (the largest in the system) and new ramps totaling 4.4 miles were constructed for entering and exiting traffic. To maintain four lanes of through traffic on the Delaware River Extension and access to the Northeast Extension, the project was divided into separate stages. In addition, work had to be undertaken to seal "solution cavities," or underground caverns where groundwater eroded earth between limestone rocks. The three-year, $55 million project, which represented the largest single contract in turnpike history, was completed in 1992.
In 1998, the PTC embarked on a new project to construct a new bridge over the Schuylkill River, and to rehabilitate the existing Schuylkill River Bridge. The new bridge, which also has a span of 1,224 feet, was erected south of and adjacent to the existing bridge. Included in the project was the demolition and replacement of the Diamond Run Viaduct. When the two-year, $35 million project was completed in May 2000, six lanes of capacity were provided over the Schuylkill River. (For the time being, however, only four of these lanes are being used.)
At EXIT 339 in (PA 309) in Fort Washington, PennDOT (in conjunction with the PTC) built new bridges to accommodate both the widened six-lane I-276 and the reconstructed Fort Washington Expressway (PA 309). Part of the larger $160 million PA 309 reconstruction project, the two-year-long project was completed in late 2003.
The PTC began widening the 13 miles of the Delaware River Extension from EXIT 326 (I-76 / US 202 / US 422) east to EXIT 339 (PA 309) in 2003. Once the $102 million project is completed in 2009, six lanes of through traffic would be provided from Valley Forge to Trevose.
NEW EXIT SIGNS AND EZ-PASS COME TO THE TURNPIKE: On October 25, 2000, the PTC announced that it plans to replace the existing sequential exit numbering system with one based on mileposts, counting west-to-east from the Ohio border to the Delaware River. New signs featuring the milepost-based exit numbers first appeared in November 2000, and by 2004, the old exit numbers will be dropped altogether.
On December 1, 2000, the PTC introduced EZ-Pass on the Delaware River Extension, and on the mainline turnpike west to EXIT 242 (I-83) near Harrisburg, in the first stage of EZ-Pass implementation on the Pennsylvania Turnpike system. That day, a new $5 million interchange opened at EXIT 340 (Virginia Drive) in Fort Washington. The westbound exit is open only to passenger cars equipped with EZ-Pass transponders. (There is no access to the EXIT 340 from the eastbound direction.)
AND THE WINNERS ARE...
The modified full-length barrier toll plaza alternative won out over a split-plaza alternative because of its reduced impact to nearby residential areas and parkland. The interchange is to be constructed west of the I-95 / I-276 interchange. The "single-loop" interchange alternative won out over the all-flyover ramp alternative because of its reduced impact to the surrounding residential area. Note that the existing I-95 north of I-276 will be re-designated I-195.
(Maps by Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.)
AT LONG LAST, A CONNECTION TO I-95: When the Delaware Expressway (I-95) was extended north into Bucks County in 1969, no provisions were made for a direct connection to the Delaware River Extension. Over the years, the absence of a direct link between I-95 and I-276 has created confusion for travelers, and has increased congestion on local roads.
In 1982, Federal legislation was enacted that stipulated construction of an interchange between the two expressways. Under the legislation, which allowed for the cancellation of the unbuilt I-95 through central New Jersey, I-95 was to be rerouted over the Delaware River to EXIT 6 of the mainline New Jersey Turnpike, at which point the I-95 designation was to continue north along the turnpike. At the time, the PTC and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) conducted studies to connect the two highways, but the studies were discontinued for environmental reasons.
During the late 1980's, the PTC evaluated a direct connection between I-276 and I-95, in an area north of I-276 and west of the existing I-95. The PTC eliminated this alternative from consideration after the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) demonstrated that the proposed low-speed, conventional turnpike-style interchange would not be able to adequately handle present and future traffic demands between I-95 and I-276.
In 1992, the PTC and PennDOT initiated new studies on connecting the two highways. The two agencies sought to determine whether a direct connection could be developed between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-95 with minimal impact on the surrounding area. Over the next nine years, numerous engineering and design studies were conducted, resulting in the draft environmental impact statement and its preferred alternatives in April 2001.
The project is divided into three elements - new toll plaza, new I-276 / I-95 interchange and a new parallel bridge - as follows:
NESHAMINY TOLL PLAZA: The preferred alternative proposes a new full-length barrier toll plaza in Bensalem Township, just east of EXIT 351 (US 1) and the Neshaminy service areas, and directly behind Philadelphia Park racetrack. The implementation of EZ-Pass permitted a reduction in the number of toll lanes, allowing the project engineers to locate this alternative farther away from major residential developments. As a result, "modified plaza west" alternative (which would cost $107 million) would impact one home and no businesses. In comparison, the "split plaza" alternative (which would cost $116 million) would impact two residences, three businesses and a public park.
I-276 / I-95 INTERCHANGE: The "single loop" interchange alternative for the I-276 / I-95 interchange - the new EXIT 355 - would allow vehicles to travel north, south, east, or west without leaving the Interstate system or encountering traffic lights. The local access to these interstate highways would continue to be provided by the existing US 1, US 13, and PA 413 interchanges. This alternative, which is expected to cost $310 million, was developed in response to the potential negative impacts of the "all-flyover" interchange alternative, which would require more land acquisition, more heavily impact on the Tanglewood and Newportville neighborhoods, and carry a higher cost ($332 million).
DELAWARE RIVER TURNPIKE TOLL BRIDGE: Widening the turnpike approach requires a new bridge over the Delaware River because the existing four-lane bridge cannot be widened. The PTC and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority are considering two bridge alternatives ("north parallel" and south parallel"). The "south parallel" route, which is expected to cost $223 million (or $15 million more than the "north parallel" route), has been selected as the preferred alternative.
Both the Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276) and the Delaware Expressway (I-95) will be widened to six lanes (three lanes in each direction) through the project area.
On January 6, 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the final approval for the project. The current schedule for design and construction is as follows:
2006: Right-of-way acquisition began.
2010: Initial construction (drainage, infrastructure improvements, improvements to surrounding roadways) scheduled to begin.
2011: Construction of direct interchange ramps scheduled to begin.
2014: Interchange scheduled for completion.
Completion of the entire project is slated for 2015, when the final improvement, the construction of the parallel Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge, is opened to traffic.
This 2002 photo shows the westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike-Delaware River Extension (I-276) at the future site of EXIT 355 (I-95 / Delaware Expressway) in Levittown. The new ramps now are scheduled for completion in 2014. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
When the new I-95 / I-276 interchange is completed in 2014, the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge will be prominently signed as I-95. To eliminate confusion among motorists traveling on the East Coast, the following new "local" and "express" designations for I-95 should be assigned as follows:
Beginning in Newport, Delaware, the "express" I-95 would comprise of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the current I-295 approaches, and the length of the New Jersey Turnpike north to EXIT 6.
A companion route, "local" I-95, would serve Delaware via the existing I-495 alignment, and Pennsylvania through the existing I-95 alignment (Delaware Expressway). It would then cross the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge (I-276) and rejoin the "express" I-95 at EXIT 6 of the New Jersey Turnpike.
(Thanks to phillyroads.com and misc.transport.road contributor Chris Blaney for the recommendation.)
SOURCES: "On Pennsylvania's Turnpike" by William G. Weart, The New York Times (11/12/1950); "Turnpike Link to Jersey Voted," The New York Times (5/16/1951); "Pennsylvania Turnpike System," Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (1951); "Turnpike Opening" by Paul Trescott, The New York Times (8/22/1954); "Turnpike Ceremony Very Brief," The New York Times (10/16/1954); "New Roads with New Numbers Will Parallel Old U.S. Routes" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (9/19/1958); "Interstate 95," Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1979); "I-95 Corridor in the Tri-State Region," Tri-State Regional Planning Commission (1979); "Pennsylvania Struggles with Benefits, Pitfalls of Turnpike's Future" by Robert Moran and Rich Heidorn Jr., The Philadelphia Inquirer (10/26/1997); "In Pennsylvania, Old Turnpike Exits Are Getting New Numbers" by Michael Klein, The Philadelphia Inquirer (10/25/2000); "EZ-Pass Off to Uneasy Beginning on Pennsylvania Turnpike" by Jere Downs, The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/03/2000); "Study Urges $710 Million in Traffic Projects for Montgomery County" by Melia Bowie, The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/11/2001); "Pennsylvania Turnpike / Interstate 95 Interchange Project: Draft Environmental Impact and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (2001); "$640 Million Plan Linking I-95 with PA Turnpike OK'd" by Jere Downs, The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/07/2004); "Was I-76 Numbered to Honor Philadelphia for Independence Day, 1776?," Federal Highway Administration (2004); "Pennsylvania Governor Says Turnpike To Be Leased to Private Investors" by Peter Samuel, Toll Roads News (2/06/2007); "Pennsylvania Turnpike / Interstate 95 Interchange Project," Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (2008); Ralph Herman; Jeff Kitsko; Alex Nitzman; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith.
I-276 shield by Ralph Herman. Pennsylvania Turnpike shield by James Lin. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.
PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE-DELAWARE RIVER EXTENSION LINKS: