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Interstate 79

Routing

Interstate 79 constitutes a two-state freeway that links Charleston, West Virginia with Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania. The freeway winds northeast from the West Virginia capital city along a mountainous route to Clarksburg, Fairmont and Morgantown, home of the University of West Virginia. Heading into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I-79 swings westward toward Waynesburg and Washington for a brief overlap with Interstate 70.

North from there, I-79 bends back to the east through Canonsburg, Bridgeville, Carnegie and other west Pittsburgh suburbs. The freeway bypasses the Steel City through to the Ohio River at Corapolis and the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Cranberry Township. Beyond there from Harmony north toward Lake Erie, Interstate 79 travels a rural route to meet I-80 outside Mercer and I-90 at Mc Kean Township. The northern terminus sees the freeway transition into Bayfront Parkway to the west of Downtown Erie.

Cranberry Connector

A substandard connection between Interstate 79 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76), known as the Cranberry Connector, required travelers to use Pennsylvania 228 to connect between two facilities. This non-freeway connection and the associated crossing of U.S. 19 nearby generated travel headaches for years. A $44.3 million project conducted by PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission replaced the surface link with a direct freeway connector. Construction included the building of a new collector distributor roadway along I-79 south to PA 228 (completed late September 2003) and a new roadway from I-76 to U.S. 19 and I-79 (completed on October 15, 2003).1,2

Parallel/Historic U.S. Routes

Interstate 79 largely follows U.S. 19 from Sutton, West Virginia north to Erie, Pennsylvania. The westward leg between Sutton and Charleston partially lines U.S. 119 from Clendenin to I-77 at Charleston. U.S. 119 also intermingles with the I-79 corridor through Morgantown.

History

Interstate 79 was initially established by AASHTO on June 27, 1958 to run from Erie south to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.4 The route south to Charleston was added during the 1960s. Through the Pittsburgh area, I-79 was planned to loop into the Steel City along modern day Interstate 279, and I-279 would have provided the bypass route via the current alignment of I-79 through the western suburbs. These alignments were proposed until at least 1968. Also in 1960 the Penn-Lincoln Parkway was designated as Interstate 70. It was changed to Interstate 76 by 1964 and eventually Interstate 376. Changes to the main Interstates through Pittsburgh were made after it was determined that the through-traffic needs were more important.

Approved by AASHO on November 12, 1958, the northernmost segment of Interstate 79 between Interstate 90 and the city of Erie was designated as Interstate 179.4 This changed by 1968, if not sooner. The only instance in the current Interstate system where a 2-digit route ends as a 3-digit branch of itself is in Dallas, Texas at the Interstate 45 terminus and transition into unsigned Interstate 345.

Construction of Interstate 79 in Pennsylvania commenced in 1961 and finished in 1979.3

Highway Guides

Southern Terminus - Interstate 77 - Charleston, West Virginia
Perspective from Interstate 79 south
Now traveling south on Interstate 79 south, this diagrammatic sign provides the lane allocations for the interchange with Interstate 77. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
Sign bridge at the split for Interstate 77 north/south as seen from Interstate 79 south. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
A set of Interstate 64/77 shields is posted at the gore between Interstate 77 north/south. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
An END Interstate 79 shield assembly is posted at the interchange with Interstate 77. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
Perspective from Interstate 77 north
After the Interstate 64 interchange, this sign bridge appears on Interstate 77 north for the next two exits: Exit 102, Junction Interstate 79 and Exit 104, Junction U.S. 119. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
Interstate 79 - 1 Mile, northbound on Interstate 77 at the U.S. 119 interchange (Exit 102). Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
An erroneous Interstate 77/79 duplex shield assembly is found after the Interstate 64 interchange. There should be a TO banner above the Interstate 79 shield. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
Northbound Interstate 77/79 split and sign bridge. Photo taken by Shawn De Cesari/Dan Moraseski (11/01).
Closer view of the Interstate 77/79 signage in the above photo. Photo taken by Jim Teresco (8/99).
Perspective from Interstate 79 north
First northbound Interstate 79 reassurance shield. The next point of interest for the West Virginia Interstate is that of Clarksburg, 119 miles to the northeast. Photo taken by Dan Moraseski (09/02/02).
Northern Terminus - Pennsylvania 5 - Erie, Pennsylvania
Perspective from Interstate 79 north
The countdown to the northern terminus of Interstate 79 commences at the second to last interchange of the freeway at U.S. 20/Exit 182. U.S. 20 is a divided surface highway known as 26th Street through the city of Erie. 1.50 miles of Interstate 79 remains. Photos taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006) and on 10/09/01.
The counterpart of U.S. 20 in Pennsylvania and western New York is State Route 5. This highway intercepts the north end of Interstate 79 at Exit 183, 0.75 miles to the north of the sign bridge Pictured in this photograph. Photo taken 10/09/01.
Early season lake effect snow flurries began to fall in this northbound Interstate 79 photograph at Exit 183A/Pennsylvania 5 east. Traffic continuing north will meet the westbound cloverleaf in 0.25 miles as traffic is reduced in speed to 35 MPH. Photo taken 10/09/01.
At the Exit 183A gore point, a diagrammatic overhead touts the final two connections of Interstate 79: Exit 183B for Pennsylvania 5/12th Street west and the continuation of the mainline as a surface street to the Erie bayfront. Photos taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006) and on 10/09/01.
Expressway ends 1,000 feet warning signs and signal ahead 1,400 feet warning overhead at the Pennsylvania 5/12th Street overpasses. The Bayfront relates to the Presque Isle Bay, the body of water that separates the Presque Isle Peninsula and State Park from the city of Erie. Photo taken 10/09/01.
Interstate 79 northbound transitions into Pennsylvania State Route 4034 at this end milepost underneath the 12th Street overpasses. These white reference signs are placed all along the Pennsylvania U.S. and State highway network. Every state maintained highway in the Commonwealth is assigned a state route number. These white signs indicate the designation applied to them. Thus this is the true northern terminus of the Interstate (SR 79). Photo taken by Barb Bee (6/01).
The Exit 183B gore point for the Pennsylvania 5 westbound cloverleaf ramp and the surface boulevard transition of the Interstate 79 freeway. The highway officially becomes Bayfront Parkway. Photo taken 10/09/01.
Perspective from Interstate 79 south
First southbound Interstate 79 shield, located just south of the Bayfront Parkway transition into the freeway. Exits 183, 182, and 180 represent the three city of Erie interchanges that Interstate 79 facilitates. Five miles to the south is the junction with Interstate 90 at Exit 178. Photo taken 10/09/01.
The first exit on southbound Interstate 79 is Exit 183, Junction Pennsylvania 5, followed by Exit 182, Junction U.S. 20. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
Southbound Interstate 79 reaches Exit 182, Junction U.S. 20. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
The next exit on southbound Interstate 79 is Exit 180, Junction U.S. 19 to Kearsage. The Interstate 90 interchange is Exit 178 but is not included in the next exit 7 miles calculation. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
Perspective from Interstate 90 east
Now traveling east on Interstate 90, we approach the interchange with Interstate 79 (one mile) near Erie, Pennsylvania. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
The first ramp in this cloverleaf interchange connects Interstate 90 east with Interstate 79 south to Pittsburgh. The second ramp will loop onto northbound Interstate 79 to Erie. At one time, Interstate 79 north of Interstate 90 was proposed as Interstate 179, but today is signed as a continuation of Interstate 79 all the way to Pennsylvania 5 in Erie. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
Westbound Interstate 90 reaches Exit 22B, Junction Interstate 79 north to Erie. Interstate 90 continues east toward Interstate 86/Southern Tier Expressway and Buffalo, New York. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
Perspective from Interstate 90 west
Now traveling west on Interstate 90, we approach the interchange with Interstate 79 (one mile) near Erie, Pennsylvania. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
The first ramp in this cloverleaf interchange connects Interstate 90 west with Interstate 79 north to Erie. The second ramp will loop onto southbound Interstate 79 to Pittsburgh. At one time, Interstate 79 north of Interstate 90 was proposed as Interstate 179, but today is signed as a continuation of Interstate 79 all the way to Pennsylvania 5 in Erie. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).
Westbound Interstate 90 reaches Exit 22A, Junction Interstate 79 south to Pittsburgh. Interstate 90 continues west toward Cleveland, Ohio, and a merge with Interstate 80/Ohio Turnpike west to Chicago, Illinois. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April-June 2006).

Sources:

  1. "PennDOT touts benefits of Cranberry Connector ." The Post-Gazette, September 6, 2003
  2. Kitsko, Jeff. "Remaining ramps of the Cranberry Connector Opening Right Now." Online posting, misc.transport.road, October 15, 2003.
  3. Pennsylvania Highways: Interstate 79.
  4. Interstate system route numbering web site http://www.nwindianahwys.homestead.com/INTER_MAIN.HTML, Stephen Summers.

Page Updated June 24, 2015.

Mileage

State West Virginia
Mileage 160.52
Cities Charleston, Weston, Clarksburg, Fairmont, Morgantown
Junctions Interstate 79, Interstate 68
State Pennsylvania
Mileage 182.72*
Cities Washington, Pittsburgh, Meadville, Erie
Junctions Interstate 70, Interstate 70, Interstate 279, Interstate 279, Interstate 76, Interstate 80, Interstate 90
TOTAL 343.24
Source: December 31, 2014 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
* - 3.55 miles on I-70
Interstate 79 Annual Average Daily Traffic

State Location AADT Composite Year
Pennsylvania Morrisville 17,000 2002
Pennsylvania Washington 60,000 2002
Pennsylvania Carnegie 75,000 2002
Pennsylvania Franklin Park 74,000 2002
Pennsylvania Erie 38,000 2002
Source: Pennsylvania Traffic Volumes 2002 (Penndot)
Complete Interstate 79 AADT data.
Pittsburgh - 1965 Pennsylvania Official Highway Map
Once Interstate 70 was relocated from Pittsburgh southward onto its current alignment between Washington and New Stanton, Pennsylvania, Penn-Lincoln Parkway was redesignated as Interstate 79 on the West portion and as the westernmost extent of Interstate 76 on the East portion.
Erie, Pennsylvania inset - 1963 Rand McNally Road Atlas
The Interstate 179 designation made it into the 1963 Rand McNally Road Atlas. All other editions showed the freeway leading into Erie as simply I-79.
Interstate 79 corridor through northern West Virginia - 1972
Two sections of Interstate 79 were completed in West Virginia by 1972: from Jane Lew to Quiet Dell and from McAlpin through the Fairmont area to a point south of Uffington and Morgantown.
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