Penn Pike breaks ground on new all-electronic toll MP320 interchange with PA29 in Chester Co
By Peter Samuel
Thursday morning in cold damp weather Pennsylvania Turnpike and state and local officials in Chester County had a groundbreaking ceremony for a new interchange (IC320) with state route 29 (PA29). Like most new interchanges the IC320 will have all-electronic tolling (AET). You'll have to have an E-ZPass transponder or you'll pay a substantial premium for an image-based toll in the mail.
Local officials had pushed strongly for the project which was put on hold in the spring of 2009 because of disagreements over stormwater management and the extent of sound walling in the planned rebuilding and widening of the Turnpike east to Valley Forge.
It is hoped the opening of the new intermediate interchange will see reduced pressure at the Valley Forge IC to the east as well as on local roads in what is often described as the Great Valley area of northern Chester County.
The new interchange is located in East Whiteland Township - about midway between Downingtown IC (MP312) and the Valley Forge IC (MP326) on the east-west mainline (I-76), northwest of Philadelphia.
Craig Shuey, chief operating officer of the Turnpike was quoted; "We're here to celebrate the beginning of a critical infrastructure project that will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for residents and commuters in the surrounding area. Many also consider the Route 29-Turnpike interchange to be a central component for the continued economic growth of this region."
It is a classic 'trumpet' interchange with a full bridge over the turnpike. And it is the first all-electronic interchange on the Turnpike catering to all four traffic movements which are gathered together on the southside before being connected to PA29 and another local street at a signalized intersection.
The new interchange makes for more convenient access to fringe metro area business parks like the Great Valley Corporate Center, the Commons at Great Valley, Atwater and business districts of Malvern and Paoli, and residential communities along PA29 and other local roads.
Without the interchange traffic for the Turnpike has a ten or 15 minute trip via mostly 2 lane 30mph roads to get to the Valley Forge or Downingtown ICs,a nd the Valley Forge IC in particular is itself congested.
The Turnpike's existing all-electronic interchanges, the Virginia Drive Interchange in Montgomery County and the Street Road Interchange in Bucks County, each provide half an interchange or only two of four possible movements - westbound on and off for the Virginia Drive IC and eastbound on and off for the Street Road IC.
Cost of the earlier partial interchanges with straight ramps and no bridgework was around $10m each, whereas the MP320/PA29 trumpet interchange with the full bridging over the Turnpike itself plus over a couple of local roads, and more elaborate ramps, was $48m.
Trip toll system
The Turnpike operates a trip toll system with side toll points where an entry or exit is registered and matched with a later exit or an earlier entry to compute the toll - called a 'ticket system' for cash customers because the ticket provides a record of entry when issued at the beginning of the trip and is handed to the toll collector on exit.
Under all-electronic tolling of course there are no tickets, but E-ZPass transponders serve to register entries and exits via gantry-mounted RF readers at each end of the trip so the toll can be computed from the two reads in the the toll host computers.
Those motorists without a functioning transponder have their license plates read by cameras mounted along with the readers on the toll gantries over the roadway. Entry and exit license plate reads are similarly matched by the toll host.
Major engineering design for the project was by STV Inc, and construction by contractor Allan A Myers Inc. They are supposed to be done by late fall 2012. Toll system work is by TransCore.
Turnpike has long stretches without ICs
The Turnpike as originally built had interchanges ten miles or more apart as in the 14 mile stretch between Downingtown and Valley Forge. This concentrated traffic to utilize toll collection staff efficiently in the era of manual toll collection, but it left large and increasingly developed areas poorly served by the Turnpike and dependent on slow, local roads.
With transponder transactions and license plate imaging increasingly economical to operate and manual toll collection disappearing, it is now feasible to add new toll points and to make the Turnpike more generally accessible with intermediate AET interchanges.
As an associated project the Turnpike is designing a total rebuild and widening of the six miles, 10km from the site of the new MP320 interchange to the MP326 interchange at Valley Forge. Construction of this work is scheduled to begin in 2013 around the time the new MP320 interchange opens.
Traffic in this segment of the Turnpike is usually in the range 45k to 50k/day.