Interchange Project:

Building Toward a Consensus
By Christina M. Hampton

The construction of four-lane, limited-access superhighways has been one of the most significant transportation innovations of the 20th century, vastly changing the way Americans live and work. The concept was pioneered by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission nearly 60 years ago. It has since expanded into a nationwide system of interstate highways.

In the late 1950s, Interstate 95 was designed to connect the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. But, when I-95 was built through Bucks County northeast of Philadelphia, no direct interchange was constructed with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, thus creating a gap in the interstate system.

For nearly two decades, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have considered the construction of a Turnpike (I-276) interchange with I-95. Such a connection would improve access between the two interstates and also help to remove connecting traffic from now-congested local roads.

The need for a Pennsylvania Turnpike/Interstate 95 Interchange Project has become more critical since the enactment of federal legislation in 1982 which permitted the "withdrawal" of an uncompleted section of proposed I-95 between Trenton and New Brunswick, New Jersey. The law states that Interstate 95 should be rerouted via a new interchange onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bucks County across the Delaware River Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike, and north toward New York. This rerouting was substituted for the I-95 "Missing Link" in New Jersey.

In 1985, the Pennsylvania legislature responded to the need for a connection by passing Act 61 which authorized the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to design and construct a series of projects throughout the commonwealth, including an interchange between I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Studies were initiated on the interchange shortly thereafter. However, this effort was put on hold in 1989 because of a substantial increase in projected traffic volumes and the desire for a direct free-flowing interstate-to-interstate connection.

The most recent environmental and engineering studies for this connection began in October of 1992. The project involves not only the Pennsylvania Turnpike and PENNDOT, but the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and an expert team of engineering, environmental and community relations consultants.

This work differs significantly from earlier efforts due to the use of Federal Highway Administration funding and the need to comply with PENNDOT's 10-step process. Because federal funds are involved, more detailed environmental, traffic and financial studies must be conducted. In August of 1993 the project's Needs Study was completed. The purpose of the Needs Study was to determine deficiencies in the existing highway system and to project future traffic problems in the area of the proposed interchange.

In that study the primary needs were identified as connecting I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike to form a continuous I-95 route from Florida to Maine; rerouting of I-95 along the Pennsylvania Turnpike into New Jersey through the proposed interchange; and the removal of interstate traffic from the congested local highway system.

The project team then began developing preliminary engineering alternatives to meet the needs. It was determined that this could only be done with a direct interchange. The projected increase in traffic volumes also requires that other improvements be considered. For example, the Turnpike and portions of I-95 will need to be widened to six lanes, the Delaware River Bridge will require extra capacity, and a new fare collection facility will be needed.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike/Interstate 95 Interchange Project Team studied a full range of alternatives for interchange location, roadway widening, and toll plaza location. As part of its public involvement effort, the project team met with numerous public and community organizations and groups of nearby residents and businesses located near the proposed toll plaza and interchange alternatives.

The project team has recently completed its work under Step 4 (the Development and Evaluation of Preliminary Alternatives) of PENNDOT's Ten-Step Transportation Project Development Process. The work during this phase compared and evaluated the various alternatives and helped the project team "target" those preliminary alternatives considered reasonable and suitable for further study.

The Turnpike Commission expects to carry two interchange alternatives, two bridge alternatives and two toll plaza alternatives forward for further study. Alternatives in each of these three categories are compatible with each other so that the best alternatives can be combined to create the most effective and efficient overall plan.

When this process is completed, the Turnpike will conduct another series of public meetings and concurrence will be requested from all transportation and resource agencies. Then, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be circulated for public comment before a final alternative is recommended in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Once the FEIS is accepted by the FHWA, a Record of Decision will be issued permitting the Turnpike to construct the new interchange.

Turnpike officials expect it to take at least another year to complete the environmental impact study process.

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