Penn Pike moving - very slowly - to end gap in I-95 (Turnpike Commission response added)

December 10, 2010

On the present schedule the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission expect to be able announce an end to the gap in I-95 in 2018, project manager Jeff Davis told us in an interview this week. "We'd like to be able to do it sooner, and we will if we can, but that builds in some cushions for delay." It is the Pennsylvania Turnpike's largest, most complicated project - some $1.4 billion total cost - and it could continue through three stages to the late 2020s.

Heading north from Washington DC on I-95 and the tolls in Maryland and Delaware, sticking on I-95 takes you right through downtown Philadelphia. Following the west bank of the Delaware River northeast to Bristol, I-95 passes over the Pennsylvania Turnpike without connections.

I-95, as presently signed crosses the Delaware into New Jersey upriver of Trenton, not far from the famous "Washington Crossing" where General George Washington led American troops on a hazardous night crossing of the icy river in long boats for a night march into Trenton to rout the Hessian allies of the British garrisoning that city. In the famous surprise attack early on the morning of Dec 26 1776 Washington's men turned the tide of the war, restoring the morale of the American cause in the Revolutionary War.

Today motorists on I-95 make that crossing of the Delaware River in 20 seconds or so, sweeping on for another 5 minutes to Lawrence township NJ on the northern outskirts of Trenton at US1.

At which point I-95 simply ends - the victim of NIMBY opposition from academics and others in Princeton in the 1970s. A planned 23 mile 36km segment of I-95 called the Somerset Freeway from Lawrence township to I-287 in Somerset was cancelled in 1982 by act of the US Congress after years of protests.  

All this is about 7 or 8 miles, 11 to 13km inland, or west, from the route of the New Jersey Turnpike on the eastern side of the Delaware R.

Fallback plan

The fallback plan has been (talking northbound again) to take I-95 onto the last eastern 3 miles (5km) of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bristol and to cross the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania Turnpike-New Jersey Turnpike Delaware River bridge taking the 5 mile, 9km Pearl Harbor Extension of the NJ Turnpike to the mainline of the Turnpike at Exit 6.

The NJ Turnpike north of Exit 6 is already signed as I-95. This is also the stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike currently being widened to 12 lanes (4x3).

Due to the lack of an interchange of I-95 at the Pennsylvania Turnpike and with substandard conditions on the Delaware River bridge between the PA and NJ turnpikes - no shoulders - there's still a missing 9 miles 15km in this fallback routing of I-95.

In practice traffic between the mid-Atlantic and northern New Jersey (describing the northward trip) departs I-95 in Delaware, and avoids Pennsylvania altogether by using the Delaware Memorial Bridge, Delaware into New Jersey, picking up the New Jersey Turnpike at its far southern end.

The improvements needed to make I-95 continuous will mainly be of assistance to Philadelphia-northern NJ trips but they will also provide an alternate route Baltimore-New York during accidents or congestion on the southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike or on the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

Preliminary work under way

Early work is under way on Stage One of what the Penn Pike calls the I-95 Interchange project, key to closing that missing 9 miles, 15km gap in I-95. Two overbridges of the Turnpike Galloway Bridge and Bristol-Oxford Valley bridges are this month closed for reconstruction - to provide the wider span over the Turnpike at points where new toll plazas and road widening will be needed.

Engineering for Stage One is being done by Jacobs.

Galloway Rd bridge in Bensalem is close by the site of a new mainline toll plaza to be the new eastern end of the Turnpike's ticket system - presently at the Delaware River Bridge. The new Bensalem toll plaza would have three open road toll lanes each direction through the middle, three or four westbound conventional lanes to pick up tickets and as many as six staffable lanes eastbound to collect tolls of motorists departing the ticket system.

The Delaware River Bridge toll plaza, currently the end of the ticket system, will be modified to become a barrier toll plaza to collect I-95 tolls. That could be a fully electronic toll point, but designs are not finalized.

Widening is proposed for the Turnpike to provide modern breakdown shoulders and an extra lane eastbound to allow a better slowdown to exit onto Bristol Pike, a local road near the river. The new stretch of I-95 remains for now 2+2 travel lanes only.

Biggest project in Stage One is a pair of high 2-lane+shoulder direct connector ramps I-95 north to eastbound on the Turnpike and westbound on the Turnpike to south on I-95. Opening of these two connectors - design speed 60mph - is key to designating the 9 miles, 15km link as I-95.

Presently motorists have to travel many miles on local streets to make these movements between what is designated I-95 and I-276 (the Turnpike).

Project engineer Jeff Davis says they got the environmental permit applications filed with the state for Stage One in October. Then, because there are wetlands issues, it has to go to the US Army Corps of Engineers. Some land still needs to be acquired.

They hope to go into serious construction of Stage One in 2012, doing the new toll plaza work and widening, then moving to the big interchange ramps.

From the beginning of construction to the opening of Stage One in 2018 - an estimated $425m project - six years has been allowed.

State Two post 2018

Stage Two's major effort invokes adding the remaining six movements to the big interchange, three being single lane direct connectors, two simple right turn ramps and one a 270 degree loop. Along with the widening of the mainlines north and west this is $400m to $500m, Davis says - though only Stage One has been carefully costed at this point.

Stage Three new Delaware River bridge

Stage Three involves an extra bridge over the Delaware River immediately south of the existing bridge. The new bridge would become eastbound with space for four lanes plus shoulders both sides. The existing bridge presently carrying two lanes each direction with shoulders rightside only would be rehabbed and made three lanes westbound, shoulders both sides in conformity with present interstate standards.

Cost of that Delaware River bridgework is put at $450m to $500m.

Stages Two and Three have yet to be planned to the point where permitting can begin, so they seem like adding another ten years at least beyond 2018, making completion of the project close to 2030.

COMMENT: This project is a good one but the schedule seems unbelievably protracted. In Texas or Florida they'd do it in three or four years, in China perhaps two years? Even here in Maryland not far down the road from TOLLROADSnews our state DOT is building the Inter County Connector, a complete 18 mile, 29km 2x3 lane tollroad with several full interchanges, including an I-95 all-directions interchange in around five years.

RESPONSE TO COMMENT: A Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman said they're in no hurry to move beyond Stage One.

Stage One, he said, will effectively close the missing gap in I-95 and allow traffic to make the I-95 link smoothly between Philadelphia and the New Jersey Turnpike by building the twin two lane direct connector ramps for the main I-95 movement west-to-south and north-to-east. That will be accomplished by 2018 which is a reasonable time given the need to gain environmental clearance, acquire land, complete detailed design, and stage the work.

Stages Two and Three, the spokesman said, are not seen as urgent because they are not yet justified by the traffic volumes. These are 40k to 45k/day. Completion of I-95 will attract more traffic but only gradually, he said. Stages Two and Three are a widening to three lanes and provision of six more movements at the Turnpike/I-95 interchange, and both can be paced to traffic growth.  ADDED 2010-12-13 21:00

see project website:

TOLLROADSnews 2010-12-09

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