History of Highways in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, Pennsylvania

The history of the highways in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania got off to a false start in the 1930s, from which it never quite recovered.

Early years

According to Ablogtophone, Philadelphia was one of the first major cities in the United States. In 1890 they broke through the barrier of one million inhabitants, which grew to 2 million in 1950. To cope with this population growth, a plan was rolled out in 1932 for an extensive system of parkways in and around the city, modeled on the parkways in New York City from the mid-20s by Robert Moseswere built. The design standards were therefore borrowed from the second-generation parkways of the early 1930s in New York, with grade-separated intersections, a park-like setting and classic natural stone viaducts over the highway. At the time, this was seen as primarily a recreational road network, because Philadelphia was relatively compact at the time and long-distance commuting was not yet widespread.

The Delaware Valley, as the conurbation is also called, lacked a strong and powerful person like New York had with Robert Moses. None of the proposed parkways were built in the 1930s, while New York City already had a 240-mile highway network in the late 1930s. A network of expressways for mixed traffic also failed to get off the ground, with the result that the region did not have a single motorway until the Second World War. The economic depression contributed to this, although it seemed to affect New York less than Philadelphia. During World War II, priorities were elsewhere, including New York, and no highways were built.

The first highways

Immediately after the Second World War, a network of motorways was started. However, the parkway designs were abandoned as they proved obsolete after World War II in New York City, especially due to the increase in commuter and freight traffic, which the parkways were not designed for. The first freeway to open was outside of Philadelphia, in the then largely rural area across the Delaware River. US 130 in New Jersey was expanded into a highway over a length of 10 kilometers in 1948. This would later become Interstate 295. This short stretch of motorway, however, would remain the only part that was completed in the 1940s. However, they started with another important project, theNew Jersey Turnpike, which would run through New Jersey south and east of Philadelphia. Modeled after the German Autobahn and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, 71 kilometers of the highway from Pennsville to Mount Holly were completed in 1951, directly forming a through bypass of Philadelphia. That same year, the New Jersey Turnpike reached as far as the New York City metropolitan area.

The highway network around Philadelphia also began to take shape in the 1950s, with strong population growth in Montgomery County, Bucks County and the Camden region of New Jersey necessitating the construction of a highway network. In 1954, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension opened, later I-276 extending the Pennsylvania Turnpike north of Philadelphia along. In 1956 this toll road connected to the New Jersey Turnpike. Also in 1954, the first section of the Schuylkill Expressway, later part of I-76, opened. However, this was outside of Philadelphia, in an area called Valley Forge, around King of Prussia and Consohocken, two industrial towns north of the city.

However, the first freeway within Philadelphia’s city limits did not open until 1959, when the Schuylkill Expressway was extended south over the banks of the river of the same name. A year earlier, in 1958, the first seven miles of the Fort Washington Bypass, once intended to extend into downtown Philadelphia, opened. In 1958 and 1959, State Route 42 in New Jersey was completed in two phases, which would later form the major Atlantic City Expressway with bridges over the Delaware to Philadelphia.

Despite this, the early section of the highway network was disordered and fragmented, with major projects primarily outside the city of Philadelphia. The first highways appeared around Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, in the late 1950s.

Interstate Highways

In the 1960s, the construction of the Interstate Highways took off, also in and around Philadelphia. These highways were eligible for 90% federal funding and were therefore no longer dependent on the whims of local governments. In 1961, the Roosevelt Expressway (US 1), an east-west highway through the north of the city, was started. However, more than 4 kilometers would never be built. The 1960s also saw the significant expansion of Interstate 295 in New Jersey to accommodate the rapid population growth there. The first section of Interstate 95 opened in Pennsylvania in 1962in the city of Philadelphia, which would be built in the following years as the city’s main highway, over the banks of the Delaware River. In 1964, the Atlantic City Expressway opened, creating a through highway between Philadelphia and the Atlantic City coastal resorts on New Jersey’s Atlantic coast.

In 1963 and 1966, all of what is now Pennsylvania State Route 63, a four-mile highway in the north of the city, was completed. However, this one would forever remain a short highway to nowhere, intended to connect to the never-built Roosevelt Expressway and further north. In 1967, part of US 202 opened in Pennsylvania around West Chester. This highway was intended as an outer bypass to the west and north of the city. This also turned out to be one of the many projects in Pennsylvania that was only partially built. In 1967, two sections of US 422 also opened in Pennsylvania, a new highway from Philadelphia to Reading. The toll-free section of Interstate 95 in Delaware was built in 1967 and 1968, so that the region was also opened up from the southwest after the Delaware Turnpike opened in 1963. The last achievement of the 1960s was the opening of the first section of State Route 55 in New Jersey, which runs due south from Philadelphia. The first part, however, opened the furthest from Philadelphia, at Port Elizabeth.

Further expansion & turning point

The 1970s saw the shaky start of Interstate 476 in Pennsylvania, which was to form a western bypass from Philadelphia, toward Scranton. Only 4 kilometers were completed, only to be left useless for the next two decades. In the early 1970s, State Route 55 in New Jersey was extended in stages to Philadelphia, and in 1973 it ran to Malaga. In the mid-1970s, it was also decided that the Somerset Freeway, part of Interstate 95 in New Jersey, would not be built between Trenton and New Brunswick. In response, the ring road around Trenton was closed on the north side and compensation was paid from the federal government for not building the highway. In 1974 the first part of theInterstate 195 in New Jersey, which ran from Trenton to the east coast around Neptune.

In the mid and late 1970s, fragments of I-95 were also delivered through Philadelphia, but for a long time left a missing link between Philadelphia and the city’s airport. One of the major turning points in highway construction around the city was July 1, 1977, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation froze all funding for planned highways. This proved the death knell for countless projects in and around Philadelphia, the consequences of which are still visible to this day. The city suffered from the inefficient highway network, often substandard and with far too little capacity. From the north and northwest, a suburban area with a population of 1 million continued the Schuylkill Expresswaywith 2×2 lanes the only motorway into the city. In response to the city’s poor accessibility, a number of sub-centers developed north of the city, most notably King of Prussia and Norristown. Philadelphia also suffered a decline, with the city losing 400,000 residents between 1960 and 1980, a trend that continued for a long time thereafter. In 2008 the city had 600,000 fewer inhabitants than in 1960, after which it started to grow cautiously. Cities such as Trenton and Camden also lost, along with Philadelphia, with skyrocketing crime and large-scale vacancy. As a result, Philadelphia lost a significant portion of its tax base, making financing infrastructure projects even more difficult than it already was.

Difficult further construction

Because most of the planned motorways were canceled in 1977, the congestion on the limited amount of existing motorways and the underlying road network took on draconian forms. In 1980, Interstate 676 was extended from downtown to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to Camden. A typical example of the compromises that had to be made at the time, through traffic on this connection has to go through a series of traffic lights. US 422 was completed in 1984 and 1985, creating an alternative to the Pennsylvania Turnpike between King of Prussia and Reading. State Route 55 was completed in New Jersey in 1986 and 1989, and the last stretch of Interstate 95 opened in Pennsylvania in 1989.After three decades of construction, the city finally had its main artery connecting the northeast to the southwest.

In 1987, after 17 years, a very short section of Interstate 476 in Pennsylvania was completed. The rest, however, had to wait until 1991, when a western bypass of the city was first created, after 4 decades of planning and litigation. 1991 also saw the completion of the first section of State Route 1 in Delaware, the new toll road that would connect the capital Dover with the suburbs of Wilmington (and Philadelphia). This highway was completed in phases during the 1990s, until the last section opened in 2003. In 1995, the missing link on US 30 in Pennsylvania was completed, completing an east-west highway through the northwest suburban area.

In 2014, construction began on an interchange between I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-276) in Bristol. This allowed I-95 to continue on from Maine to Florida, as I-95 originally ended in Trenton on I-295 heading south again. The construction of the junction took no less than 8 years, although few buildings need to be demolished. The first phase of the project opened on September 24, 2018 , finally establishing I-95 as a through route through the region. The cost was $650 million. Even before the project was completed, I-95 was rerouted through the south side of Trenton. The old route along the west side of Trenton has been renumbered I-295.

Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, Pennsylvania