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This 1997 photo shows the eastbound Vine Street Expressway (I-676 and US 30) just east of Logan Circle. Much of the expressway route through Center City Philadelphia is depressed relative to street level. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

LINKING CENTER CITY WITH THE BEN FRANKLIN BRIDGE: With the opening of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1926, Vine Street had become an important east-west arterial route through Center City Philadelphia. Because of the volume of traffic generated by the bridge in subsequent years, the Philadelphia City Council first recommended in 1930 that an elevated expressway be constructed along the Vine Street corridor.

In 1945, as part of the city's postwar development plan, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission proposed a depressed six-lane expressway along the Vine Street corridor. Similar in design to today's Vine Street Expressway, the route was to be flanked by service roads to serve cross streets and abutting properties. While the expressway was to be open to all vehicles, the route was to receive parkway-like design features such as stone-arch overpasses and landscaping between the main roadway and service roads. Including construction and additional right-of-way costs, the expressway was estimated to cost $26 million.

Interchanges were to be constructed at the following locations:

  • Delaware Expressway: "trumpet" interchange
  • Front Street: slip ramps (eastbound exit, westbound entry)
  • 4th Street / 5th Street: slip ramps (westbound exit, eastbound entry)
  • Benjamin Franklin Bridge: elaborate grade-separated interchange serving the bridge and the Franklin Square area
  • 9th Street: slip ramp (westbound exit)
  • 10th Street: diamond interchange
  • Broad Street: diamond interchange
  • Benjamin Franklin Parkway: slip ramps (placed at either end of Logan Square tunnel)
  • 23rd Street (and possible East River Drive extension): cloverleaf interchange
  • Schuylkill Expressway (Valley Forge Parkway): all movements from left-exit interchange
  • 32nd Street / 33rd Street: elevated ramps connecting to street level

The proposed expressway was to continue west to PA 3 (West Chester Pike) through Delaware County. However, the 1945 "Vine Street Expressway" report did not specify details on the route west of the 30th Street Station area, except that the expressway was to be carried on a viaduct over the Pennsylvania Railroad yard.

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 Vine Street Expressway was to be the northern part of the Center City loop that also comprised of the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), the Delaware Expressway (I-95) and the unbuilt Crosstown Expressway (I-695) along the South Street-Lombard Street corridor.

Two years later, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways approved the Vine Street proposal, and soon thereafter, work began on widening the existing Vine Street in preparation for the expressway. Construction of the 12-lane surface street required the demolition of buildings along a nearly two-mile-long strip about one-third the width of a city block.

FROM SCHUYLKILL EXPRESSWAY TO CENTER CITY: In 1950, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission took the recommendations of the City Council one step further by providing routing and interchange plans. Under the Commission's proposal, the Vine Street Expressway was to extend from the Schuylkill Expressway, another project recommended in the 1950 Planning Commission proposal, east to Broad Street (PA 611). The Commission's recommendation for the Vine Street Expressway was as follows:

The Vine Street Expressway would be a continuation to the west of the present state highway project (Vine Street widening) being constructed from the Delaware River (Benjamin Franklin) Bridge plaza. From 16th Street, the expressway would begin the transition from surface to depressed roadways, first passing under 17th Street, Logan Circle, Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 22nd Street, then rising to cross the Schuylkill River. At 22nd Street, traffic could enter and leave both the eastbound and westbound roadways of the expressway.

The possibility of an open cut through Logan Circle was considered, but we recommend that the roadways be covered by subway grating. We believe it to be wise to retain as much as possible of the established distinction and future prospects in this area of impressive public, quasi-public and private institutions.

The entire length of the expressway was to have six 12-foot-wide lanes, three lanes in each direction, eight-foot-wide shoulders, a four-foot-wide median with mountable reflectorized curbs, 14-foot minimum clearances, and a design speed of 50 MPH. Between Logan Circle (18th Street) and Broad Street, the depressed expressway was to be flanked by one-way service roads, each having two to three lanes in each direction. The design capacity of 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT) was expected to be reached by 1970.

Construction of the Vine Street project began in 1957. By then, the parameters of the limited-access section had changed to 18th Street, four blocks west of Broad Street. When the expressway opened to traffic on June 30, 1959, motorists were now able to travel non-stop from 18th Street in Center City all the way west to Valley Forge (via the Schuylkill Expressway).

THE VINE STREET EXPRESSWAY BECOMES AN INTERSTATE: With the Schuylkill Expressway project underway, funding for the Vine Street Expressway seemed unlikely until 1956, when both expressways became part of Interstate highway system. The Vine Street project, one of the most ambitious urban expressway projects of the time, received 90 percent Federal funding, with state and local funds covering the remaining costs.

The Vine Street Expressway had the following Interstate designations over the years:

  • June 1958-October 1958: I-895 from the Schuylkill Expressway to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Pennsylvania officials proposed this designation.

  • October 1958-November 1958: I-380 from the Schuylkill Expressway to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. New Jersey officials suggested this designation to correspond with that state's proposed Interstate segments. The I-380 designation was to continue west along the Schuylkill Expressway to Valley Forge.

  • November 1958-early 1964: I-80S from the Schuylkill Expressway to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. This was the final designation given by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO). The I-80S designation continued west along the Schuylkill Expressway to Valley Forge.

  • 1964-1973: I-76 from the Schuylkill Expressway to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge; approved by AASHO. The I-76 designation, which continued west along the Schuylkill Expressway to Valley Forge, was desired because none of the existing spur routes (I-180, I-280, I-480 and I-680) touched their parent route. Designations on the spur routes also were changed.

  • 1973-present: I-676 from the Schuylkill Expressway to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. (Interestingly, the current routing of the I-76 designation from the Ohio border to the Walt Whitman Bridge, as well as the current I-676 designation, had been suggested by some Pennsylvania officials since 1963.)

This 2002 photo shows the westbound Vine Street Expressway (I-676 and US 30) at the exit for Broad Street (PA 611) in Center City Philadelphia. Note the old-style guide sign (no PA 611 shield) on the right. (Photo by Alex Nitzman.)

FROM CENTER CITY TO THE DELAWARE RIVER: Further changes were envisioned to improve access between the Schuylkill Expressway and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. In 1957, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways began feasibility studies on the extension of the Vine Street Expressway from 18th Street east to 6th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge plaza.

The 1957 feasibility study identified several physical constraints that challenged expressway designers:

  • The report cited the difficulties of connecting the Vine Street Expressway to the existing street network, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the proposed Delaware Expressway (I-95).

  • There were several tunnels beneath the Vine Street route, including the Broad Street subway line, the Broad-Ridge subway spur line and a tunnel beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge plaza.

  • Between 11th Street and 12th Street, hundreds of trains per day crossed over the large Reading Railroad viaduct. The old viaduct connected to the Reading Terminal (today part of the Pennsylvania Convention Center and a thriving market).

  • The existing Franklin Square (at the western approach to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) and a proposed historic park complex at Independence Mall posed route location concerns.

As a result of the feasibility study, an eastern extension of the Vine Street Expressway to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach was recommended. The proposed route was to continue the existing design of the depressed six-lane expressway, flanked by one-way service roads.

Public hearings were held on the proposed expressway design in March 1966. Over the next five years, a number of design modifications were to the design as follows:

  • The ramps between the expressway mainline and the bridge plaza were redesigned.

  • The proposed trumpet interchange and four-lane connector to the Market Street East development (at 9th Street) were eliminated.

  • Franklin Square and other historic properties were to be preserved. Under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, such historic properties and public parklands were afforded protection at the Federal level.

  • Provisions were made for moving Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and School (the first Chinese Catholic Church in America) in Chinatown.

  • To improve aesthetics, provisions were made for the installation of modern street and interchange lighting, as well as for the removal of the dilapidated housing stock in Skid Row.

This 2000 photo shows the westbound Vine Street Expressway between the Delaware Expressway (I-95) and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach (I-676 and US 30). One Liberty Place dominates the Center City skyline ahead. (Photos by Alex Nitzman.)

NEW ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES: Between 1971 and 1973, significant changes in legal guidelines caused a setback for pro-expressway forces. In July 1973, projects approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prior to 1971 were subject to re-evaluation. In November 1973, the FHWA division engineer determined that a new environmental impact statement be required because previous studies neglected air and noise analysis, as well as other secondary impacts.

In 1977, the FHWA and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) distributed a revised environmental impact statement assessing the impact of the proposed Vine Street Expressway. The proposed action was described in the report as follows:

The proposed Vine Street Expressway (I-676) will be a limited-access, divided urban freeway with frontage roads. This facility is designed to serve three primary functions: (1) a through route for traffic with origins and destinations outside the study area; (2) a collector and distributor for traffic originating outside the study area and destined to the general area of the central business district (CBD); and (3) an arterial, particularly the frontage roads, for local trips within the study area.

The Vine Street Expressway is proposed to begin on the west at 18th Street, where it will connect with the existing expressway and extend eastward for approximately 1.5 miles to an interchange with I-95 (Delaware Expressway) at Front Street. Direct access also will be provided to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge at 5th Street. These connections make the proposed expressway a major link in Philadelphia's CBD highway network between I-76 (Schuylkill Expressway) to the northwest, I-95 to the north and south, and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge serving Camden, New Jersey to the east.

From 18th Street east to about 10th Street, the mainline of the expressway will be depressed, as in the existing portion of the Vine Street Expressway west of 18th Street, and built between two street-level service roads. The depressed mainline will have two 36-foot-wide, three-lane roadways, separated by a median of eight feet. Paved shoulders of 6 feet will be provided on the outside of the main roadways, while two feet of the median will serve as a paved shoulder on the inside of each pavement.

At 10th Street, the main roadway will rise to above street level and continue elevated toward the interchange with I-95. This interchange will include a set of split ramps designed to eliminate weaving movements for traffic moving directly between the Vine Street Expressway and I-95. The interchange will also allow for a direct connection between I-95 and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

A key element of the expressway is the service road network, which will collect and distribute traffic between local streets and ramps to bridge, I-676 and I-95. One-way service roads will parallel the entire length of the mainline from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway east to the bridge plaza and to I-95.

The ramps which the frontage roads serve will be located at intervals along the Vine Street Expressway. CBD access will be afforded by ramps at 22nd Street; at 16th Street; at 8th Street from the bridge; at 7th Street to and from the west; at 6th Street to and from the bridge; and at 4th Street from I-95. Ramps at 10th Street and 11th Street will allow CBD traffic to enter the ramps to I-95, while local traffic can follow the eastbound service road directly to the bridge plaza. Most of the ramps will be a single 14-foot-wide lane, except for the bridge ramp to the north service road, where two 14-foot-wide lanes are planned.

The environmental impact statement called for a more comprehensive approach to improve mass transit and quality-of-life concerns along the Vine Street corridor as follows:

  • As part of the Center City Commuter Tunnel project, a new commuter rail tunnel was constructed underneath the expressway between 8th Street and 9th Street. With the completion of the project in 1984, the Reading Railroad overpass at Vine Street was no longer an obstacle for construction, and was subsequently torn down. Moreover, a new station at 8th Street and Race Street was constructed on the SEPTA Broad Street Spur / Ridge Avenue subway to replace the old station at 9th Street and Vine Street. Further west, alterations were also made to the Vine Street station on the SEPTA Broad Street main subway line.

  • On the north side of the expressway between 8th Street and 9th Street, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation constructed a community of mixed-income residences, with parking and green space over the Center City Commuter Tunnel. This was a creative way to comply with regulations prohibiting heavy construction on land above a subway.

This 2000 photo shows the eastbound Vine Street Expressway at the split for the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach (I-676 and US 30) and the Delaware Expressway (I-95). (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

CONSTRUCTION APPROVED, AT LONG LAST: Another decade of public hearings and design revisions followed until 1986, when Governor Robert Casey revived the seemingly moribund project. To improve circulation in the Philadelphia area, the governor approved the completion of I-676 in Center City, as well as of the I-476 "Blue Route" in Philadelphia's western suburbs.

The following changes were made to the final plan:

  • Four 12-foot-wide lanes (two lanes in each direction) were constructed from 18th Street to the vicinity of 10th Street. Full-width (12-foot) shoulders were provided in the final design.

  • To mitigate the effects of the expressway on the surrounding area, elevated direct connections between the Vine Street Expressway and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge were not constructed. Between the expressway and the bridge, grade-level, signalized connections were built at 6th Street (to and from the eastbound lanes), and at 7th Street and 8th Street (to and from the westbound lanes). The Vine Street Expressway continues unobstructed to its eastern terminus at the Delaware Expressway (I-95).

  • At the eastern terminus of the Vine Street Expressway, a $13.3 million "directional-T" interchange was designed. The ramps to and from I-95 are a mixture of simple and continuous span, horizontally curved steel multi-girder bridges with span lengths ranging from 40 to 130 feet, and total lengths ranging from 120 to 1,500 feet. The interchange is designed to handle approximately 140,000 vehicles per day (AADT).

After decades of planning, controversy, congestion and construction, the Vine Street Expressway opened to traffic on January 10, 1991. The direct connection to the Delaware Expressway opened six months later. When the $225 million expressway opened, PennDOT assistant district construction engineer Leo Leonetti confidently proclaimed, "You should be able to drive it in two minutes."

IS I-676 REALLY COMPLETE? With the opening of the Vine Street Expressway, the I-676 loop through Philadelphia and Camden was finally completed. However, is the I-676 loop really complete? Both the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) consider the bridge part of I-676, but the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) does not. Chris Blaney, New Jersey contributor to phillyroads.com and misc.transport.road, made the following argument that the bridge is not up to Interstate standards:

The Ben Franklin Bridge is not Interstate standard at all. The bridge has seven undivided lanes, without even cones to separate opposing traffic flows as there are on other undivided bridges. The approaches are not even Interstate standard. On the Philadelphia side, there are traffic lights at the approaches, while the non-stop ramps from the Vine Street Expressway (I-676) to only to the Delaware Expressway (I-95), not to the bridge itself. In the eyes of PennDOT, you have to exit I-676 itself to get onto the bridge. On the New Jersey side, there are cross streets at the approach, but unlike on the Holland Tunnel Approach (I-78), there are no traffic lights.

The official Pennsylvania highway map shows the Benjamin Franklin Bridge as US 30 only; not as I-676. (They do not use the blue Interstate color as the highway line.) For its maps, Rand McNally uses their thick orange line denoting a "four-lane divided highway" for the New Jersey approach, not the freeway blue color. (The bridge itself is shown as the green toll highway color on the maps.)


For the sake of continuity, PennDOT and the NJDOT show both I-676 and US 30 shields on guide signs leading to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

RELIEVING CONGESTION AND MAINTAINING THE ROADWAY: To relieve bottlenecks on the westbound Vine Street Expressway, the DRPA and PennDOT converted the full-width westbound shoulder from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach and the Broad Street (PA 611) exit into a third westbound lane. The year-long project was completed in 1999. The following year, PennDOT completed a $4.8 million to install variable message signs and traffic detectors along the entire length of the expressway.

In 2009, PennDOT undertook a $4 million project to replace 77 sections of deteriorated concrete pavement on the older section of the expressway from 18th Street west to the Schuylkill River. For the first time statewide, PennDOT used pre-cast steel reinforced slabs to replace the worn concrete sections; this method, which allowed for reopening within nine hours instead of 18 hours, cut the construction time to four and one-half months from nine months.

A BREAK IN I-676: Between the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Vine Street Expressway, I-676 traffic must traverse at-grade, signalized intersections, as shown in this 2000 photo. This setup was a result of a design compromise that saved Franklin Square. Ramps connecting I-676 to I-95 rise above the intersections. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

SOURCES: "Vine Street Expressway," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1945); "Philadelphia Expressway Program," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1947); "Schuylkill Expressway, Roosevelt Boulevard Expressway and Vine Street Expressway," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1950); "New Roads with New Numbers Will Parallel Old U.S. Routes" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (9/19/1958); Pennsylvania: Keystone of the Interstate Highway System, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia (1958); "Philadelphia Road Link Opened," The New York Times (6/28/1959); "Regional Expressway System," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1966); 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (1969); "The Crosstown Controversy: A Case Study" by Thomas A. Reiner, Robert J. Sugarman and Janet Scheff Reiner, University of Pennsylvania (1970); "Interstate 676, Vine Street Expressway: Administrative Action Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1977); "Vine Street Expressway: What the Impact Will Be," The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/10/1981); "I-95 Completion Program for Philadelphia's Central Waterfront," Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1985); "Vine Street Facelift in Sight, but First a Lot of Pain," The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/14/1986); "On Vine, Piecing Together a Puzzle," The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/15/1987); "A Green Light for Highway" by Laurie Hollman, The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/06/1991); "1 Miles of Highway Heaven," The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/28/1991); "New City Perspective from the New Vine Street," The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/11/1991); "The Subways, Railways and Stations of Philly" by Harry Kyriakodis (2001); "Was I-76 Numbered to Honor Philadelphia for Independence Day, 1776?," Federal Highway Administration (2004); "Major Philly Highway Faces Repair Project," WPVI-TV (7/22/2009); Modjeski and Masters; T.Y. Lin International; Colette Apelian; Chris Blaney; John Blourne; Jeff Kitsko; Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; R. Bradley Maule; Alex Nitzman; Len Pundt; Sandy Smith; Stephen Summers; Jeff Taylor; Rush Wickes.

  • I-676 and US 30 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

VINE STREET EXPRESSWAY LINKS:

VINE STREET EXPRESSWAY CURRENT CONDITIONS:

OFF-SITE EXIT LISTINGS:

  • Vine Street Expressway exit list by Jeff Kitsko.

VIEW OR SUBMIT YOUR RATING TO RATETHEROADS.COM:

  • Vine Street Expressway (I-676 and US 30)

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