Penn Pike opens second transponder-only interchange - Bensalem IC352 (POLITICAL POSTSCRIPT)

November 24, 2010

They used to call it the Philadelphia Interchange, although recently in deference to a local politician it's become the Bensalem Interchange or Exit 351 (IC351) of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It's like all the old ticket system toll plazas. All movements of traffic are gathered together at the one toll plaza, either to pick up tickets when entering or to hand back their tickets sand pay if exiting.

There is a centralized placement of toll equipment and efficiency in use of staff since they can service any exiting vehicle whichever movement they are making. It made sense before electronic tolling.

Trouble is the bunching up of all the interchange traffic at the one plaza requires complex connections to the local roads. What is all bunched together at the toll plaza has to be gathered together and dispersed on the local roads. In short a complicated interchange is needed and motorists suffer the need to make circuitous routes to get on and off the 'pike.

Gradually electronic tolling or transponder-only is enabling the old patterns to be broken down.

Monday lunchtime (11-22) the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened a inexpensive - around $10m -new interchange they are calling Exit 352 (IC352.) It only caters to two of four movements since it is only on the southern or eastbound side of the Turnpike - a half diamond in effect.

It is a transponder-only interchange/toll plaza. The Turnpike calls it all-electronic. By our definition it isn't AET, it is transponder-only tolling, technically identical to all-electronic tolling, but with a different business rule - cameras will catch "violators," not levy license plate tolls, because use of the interchange without a transponder is itself a violation. Only when  the business rule allows non-transponder equipped vehicles is it all-electronic -  in our book.

IC352 is hardly half a mile (800m) from IC351 but for drivers of cars with E-ZPass - it is cars-only - who use State Road (PA132) it is a major timesaver. It is direct on and off compared to a circuitous use of the dual-trumpet interchanges involved in getting between the Turnpike and US1, then a third set of ramps to get from US1 to State Road.

State Road is a locale for some significant new traffic generating developments.

Congestion at IC351 justifies IC352 as relief

A Turnpike official tells us another reason for building Exit 352 (IC352) is that nearby Exit 351 (IC351) is often quite congested. About 40k vehicles/day use the interchange, making it one of the busiest not he Turnpike. Exit 352 is expected to take about 20% or 8k away from Exit 351, so the new interchange should benefit nonusers.

Cost to exit via the new interchange from points west will be the same toll as if exiting at Delaware Valley IC358. For those who got on the Turnpike at Street Road to travel east, the toll at the two plazas east of IC352 - Delaware Valley IC358 and Delaware River Bridge IC359 - will be the same as if entering at Bensalem IC351.

Bensalem township which had promoted this project was given the job of managing it by the Turnpike. Pennoni engineers were consultants for design and construction management, with Michael Baker Inc general engineering consultants.

TransCore did the toll system work.

The interchange has readers and cameras but no vehicle classification - weigh-in-motion on the Turnpike mainline.

In planning care had to be taken to accommodate future road widening for third laving. Also rebuild of the mainline begins around here when the Turnpike moves to build the long-awaited Turnpike/I-95 interchange just a few miles to the east.

IC352 is the second E-ZPass Only interchange to come online on the Pennsylvania Turnpike since the westbound-only Virginia Drive Interchange (Exit 340) opened December 2000 providing direct Turnpike access to and from the Fort Washington office center in Upper Dublin Township, Montgomery County.

Two more transponder-only (E-ZPass Only) interchanges are in design:

- a $50m Route 29 transponder-only interchange (TOIC) in Chester County is scheduled to start construction in spring 2011 with anticipated completion in fall 2012

- a $25m Route 903 TOIC in Carbon County is targeted to start construction in 2012 with anticipated completion in spring 2014.

Both these TOICs in process are full interchanges handling all movements.

TERMINOLOGY: we know it's deeply entrenched in the language of highways, and especially tollroads but we're always troubled by calling interchanges called Exits. Unless highways breed vehicles by the roadside there are precisely as many entries made as exits at so-called Exits. The term Entry/Exit is clumsy of course, but entries at an "Exit" sound very hazardous and not to be encouraged. The correct term is interchange. Popular usage however is likely to retain the illogical term Exit.

POSTSCRIPT: A local tells us that there's a political story behind this interchange. He says that although the congestion at IC351 is real, and he thinks IC352 is worthwhile, IC352 only got built through a political deal.

"The motivating factor for the exit was a political deal cut by the local republican state senator, Tommy Tomlinson, with Gov Ed Rendell who was seeking votes to approve the introduction of slot machines gambling at horse racing tracks throughout Pennsylvania. (The industry was suffering financially, being challenged by other state tracks with slots). A closer look at the map shows that the IC352 exit provides direct access to the Philadelphia Race track and which now has slots parlor as well.

"At the time the project was being discussed, the local horse 'Smarty Jones' was popular on the national scene having  won two of the three legs of the triple crown (only to loose in the last and longest race, the Belmont).

IC352  known locally as the Smarty Jones Ramp

"Senator Tomlinson originally wanted a full blown 4-point access interchange, which because of expense (flyover ramps etc.) and proximity to the Philadelphia IC (IC351) made no sense.  So he settled for what is informally known as 'the Smarty Jones ramp.' "

He says former-Senator Vince Fumo now serving a long jail term for thievery and corruption was deeply involved int eh allocation of "slot parlor licenses" and race track gambling permits, and that  the list of insiders with pieces of each license reads like a who's who of connected state pols and lawyers.

He adds: "As is so often the case in Pennsylvania and particularly at the Turnpike, there is always a story behind such a project."

TOLLROADSnews 2010-11-24 Postscript 2010-11-25 9:40

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