The Lehigh Tunnel carries Interstate 476/Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension under Blue Mountain. Originally opened to traffic in 1957, the tunnel was originally only one bore, with one lane in each direction. The tunnel was dualized in order to provide four lanes of traffic and to meet Interstate standards. Groundbreaking for the second bore of the Lehigh Tunnel was in 1989, and it opened to traffic in November 1991. The tunnel (and the rest of the Northeast Extension) did not become part of Interstate 476 until fall 1996. This view is on southbound Interstate 476. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Interstate 476 begins at Interstate 95 in Chester, Pennsylvania, extends north along the "Blue Route" corridor through the western suburbs of Philadelphia, then continues north along the Northeastern Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Former Pennsylvania 9) to Interstate 81 in Clarks Summit.
Originally only 21 miles in length, the original length of the "Blue Route" was fully approved by AASHTO on June 9, 1991 after completion of Interstate 476 between Interstate 95 and Conshohocken. The freeway would retain this length for less than five years, for Interstate 476 was extended in 1996 north to the vicinity of Scranton. At that time, Interstate 476 became the longest three-digit Interstate highway in the country at approximately 130 miles. With its extension, Interstate 476 surpassed the previous longest three-digit Interstate route, Interstate 495 around Boston. Several two-digit Interstate routes, such as Interstate 12, Interstate 19, and Interstate 97 are all shorter than Interstate 476.
Interstate 476 was originally programmed to include the Mid-County Expressway, or "Blue Route" between Interstates 95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange with the Northeast Extension. Initial construction of Interstate 476 resulted in the completion of two unused roads in 1970 in the Broomall and Radnor areas. These roads sat idle for many years due to environmental protests and rising construction costs. In 1979, the first segment opened to traffic between Interstate 76 at Conshohocken to Chemical Road at Plymouth Meeting by 19792. Construction of the remaining Mid-County Expressway, however, would be placed on hold for much of the 1980s due to red tape and community opposition. Thus, several compromises were made to the overall design of the highway between Interstates 76 and 95. Various sections were redesigned to better blend into the natural landscape, with the southernmost portion of highway reduced in lanes from six to four. If it were not for these compromises, the highway project might have been scrapped.
The southern terminus interchange, built during the mid-1980s, opened on August 17, 1988.1 The interchange opened with a three-quarters of a mile segment of freeway known as the MacDade Boulevard connector. This freeway stub was signed as "To MacDade Boulevard" until December 19, 19912, when Interstate 476 was completed between MacDade Boulevard (Exit 1) and Interstate 76 (Exit 16). The final segment to open was the direct connection to the Northeast Extension (Pennsylvania 9 at the time) and Interstate 276. This short segment of highway includes a large toll plaza and stack interchange at Interstate 276. The stack interchange replaced a tight trumpet interchange (construction begun on this northernmost segment in the late 1980s). It was opened on December 16, 1992.2
Plans arose to give the Blue Route and the Northeastern Extension a common designation. However, Pennsylvania 9 did not meet Interstate standards due to a two-lane section at Lehigh Tunnel. However, a 4380-foot second bore for the Lehigh Tunnel began construction on February 14, 1989, and was completed on November 22, 1991.1 This action created an Interstate-standard facility, and it was the catalyst to designate Pennsylvania 9 as an Interstate Highway and the only such facility directly connecting Philadelphia and Scranton. To that end, transportation planners submitted plans to unify the entire route under one number.
Upon hearing the evidence of the newly improved and completed route, on April 23, 1995, AASHTO approved the extension of Interstate 476 from Interstate 276 north to Interstate 81 near Dickson City via former Pennsylvania 9 (Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike). The Interstate designation was approved by the Federal Highway Administration on November 1, 1996, and signs were erected immediately thereafter. The Interstate continuity provides traffic from the Interstate 95 corridor with a "seamless" link to Scranton and points north.
As a side note, the extension of Interstate 476 was initially disapproved by AASHTO on November 11, 1994, due to concerns about the designation "476," the somewhat substandard design of the route, and the lack of Federal Highway Administration approval. Obviously these issues were corrected by 1995.
As a result of this extension, Interstate 476 is not only a bypass to Philadelphia but is also an interregional link through Philadelphia, Allentown/Lehigh Valley, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton metropolitan areas. Interstate 476 is the longest three-digit Interstate Highway in the country, as of 2006.
Parallel U.S. Routes
For its entire length, Interstate 476 provides the most direct route for a corridor that was formerly served by U.S. 309 and U.S. 611, both of which are now state routes with the same numerical designation.
Directional guide sign on Interstate 476 southbound for the partition to north and southbound Interstate 95. The interchange between the two highways is stacked, as a nearby railroad line crosses through the junction. The southbound Interstate 95 ramp departs well in advance of the interchange itself. Photo taken by Doug Kerr (03/25/01).
Perspective from Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway south
The first signage on Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway south appears after Exit 8 (Ridley Park). Interstate 476, which is locally known as the Blue Route between Interstate 95 and Interstate 276, departs from Interstate 95 at Exit 7. Photo taken 07/27/07.
The left two lanes of southbound Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway continue south to Wilmington, Delaware, while the right two lanes transition onto Interstate 476/Blue Route north to Interstate 76 and Interstate 476/Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension north to Allentown and Scranton. Meanwhile, Interstate 95 reaches the city of Wilmington, Delaware in 11 miles, after passing through the industrial municipalities of Chester, Chichester, Trainer, and Marcus Hook. Photo taken 07/27/07.
Southbound Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway reaches Exit 7, Junction Interstate 476 north. Interstate 95 southbound reduces from three to two travel lanes through the Interstate 476 stack interchange. The incoming lane of Interstate 476 to Interstate 95 on the southside of the interchange again brings Interstate 95 up to three lanes. This bottleneck is probably a remnant from 1970s traffic counts through the area. Photos taken 07/95, 10/11/01, by Chris Mason (06/23/02) and on 07/27/07.
The interchange between the two highways is a tri-level stack, with the ramp from Interstate 476 south to Interstate 95 north following the lowest level. Beyond the interchange, Interstate 95 south becomes a depressed freeway through the city of Chester. A railroad line parallels the southbound side of the freeway through Chester. Photo taken 07/27/07.
Perspective from Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway north
Now traveling north on Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway in Chester, this is the first signage for the pending split with Interstate 476 north (signed with a control city of Plymouth Meeting and thus ignoring destinations outside the Philadelphia metropolitan area). Note that the right lane becomes exit only for Interstate 476 north, leaving only two through lanes for northbound Interstate 95. This area is commonly a choke point for traffic during commuting hours. Photo taken 07/27/07.
Northbound Interstate 95 advance signage for Interstate 476 north/Exit 7. Interstate 95 is a six-lane depressed freeway through the city of Chester. The freeway reduces to four lanes through the Interstate 476 interchange, only to widen upon exiting. This configuration on northbound with the right-hand lane becoming exit-only for Interstate 476 often leads to traffic delays. Photos taken 07/27/07 and 05/07/05.
Interstate 95 northbound at the northbound beginning of Interstate 476 (Exit 7). For many years this interchange sat unused. This changed in the late 1980s with the opening of Interstate 476 from Interstate 95 to Exit 1 (MacDade Boulevard). Upon completion of this section, exit signage for this interchange listed TO MacDade Blvd with no mention that this was apart of Interstate 476. Note the change in signage between 2005 and 2007 - the sign with the state name Interstate 476 shield was replaced. Photos taken 07/27/07 and 05/07/05.
Only two lanes carry Interstate 95/Delaware Expressway through the Interstate 476 tri-level stack interchange. THe flyover ramp carries traffic from Interstate 95 north to Interstate 476 north. Photo taken 07/27/07.
Perspective from Interstate 476 north
After transitioning from northbound Interstate 95 onto northbound Interstate 476, the first exit is for MacDade Boulevard. The left two lanes continue north along Interstate 476 to Plymouth Meeting, Allentown, and Scranton. Photo taken 05/07/05.
A second pull-through sign for northbound Interstate 476 to Plymouth Meeting is posted on the MacDade Boulevard overpass. This section of Interstate 476 was built with concrete. Photo taken 05/07/05.
The first Interstate 476 north shield is posted after the MacDade Boulevard interchange. Photo taken 08/15/04.
The northern terminus of Interstate 476 sees a pair of trumpet interchanges at Interstate 81 and at the paralleling U.S. 6/11. Therefore access to the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Interstate 81 includes connections with the departing U.S. 6 and 11 as they pair northward through Clarks Summit. This photo shows two-mile guide signage for the exit (now Exit 194). Photo taken 07/04/05.
Auxiliary guide signage is in place for Exit 194 showing just Interstate 476 and Pennsylvania Turnpike control cities of Allentown and Philadelphia. Interstate 476 however, will again cross paths with Interstate 81 near milepost 181. The toll road provides a bypass of the Scranton metropolitan area by following a ledge above the city. Photo taken 07/04/05.
This is the one-mile advance guide signage for the pending junction with Interstate 476, Pennsylvania Turnpike/Northeast Extension, U.S. 6, and U.S. 11 at Clarks Summit. Photo taken 07/04/05.
To the northeast, U.S. 6 follows a freeway alignment to Carbondale. However, that interchange is at Exit 187, which is also the junction with Interstate 84 east and Interstate 380 south. Use this exit to U.S. 6-11 northwest to Clarks Summit and Factoryville, where U.S. 6 and U.S. 11 divide. U.S. 6 continues west toward Tunkhannock, Towanda, Mansfield, and Wellsboro. U.S. 11 travels north to Binghamton, New York. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Interstate 81 southbound reaches Exit 194, Junction Interstate 476/Pennsylvania Turnpike southbound. U.S. 6 enters Interstate 81 at this same interchange, overlapping with the freeway through to Exit 187, where it departs via the new Carbondale freeway to the northeast. Interstate 476 meanwhile bypasses Scranton to the west before scooting to the east of Wilkes-Barre to Allentown 75 miles to the south. The next southbound exit of Interstate 81 is with the North Scranton Expressway, U.S. 11, a limited-access highway into downtown Scranton. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Perspective from Interstate 81 north
This overhead sign is the first advance signage on northbound Interstate 81 and westbound U.S. 6 for the junction with Interstate 476 south (Exit 194). Photo taken 07/01/05.
Nearing Exit 194 for the northern terminus of Interstate 476 and the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Traffic counts are generally light on Interstate 476 between the north end (Exit 131) and Exit 115 at Dupont. An interchange was constructed at Keyser Avenue (Exit 122) to add to the appeal of the lightly traveled highway. Photo taken 07/01/05.
This is the one-mile advance sign on northbound Interstate 81 and westbound U.S. 6 for the junction with Interstate 476 south (Exit 194). Photo taken 07/01/05.
Northbound Interstate 81 as it splits with U.S. 6 westbound at Exit 194/Interstate 476 south. U.S. 6 relocated to Interstate 81 when the freeway opened between Interstate 81/84/380 and Carbondale by the year 2000. The next Interstate junction of Interstate 81 will occur in 50 miles when Interstate 86 extends to Binghamton from Corning and Elmira, New York. Photos taken 07/01/05 and by Chris Elbert (07/06).
Perspective from Interstate 476/NE Extension Pennsylvania Turnpike south
Upon exiting Interstate 81, the transition ramp splits, with the left lane connecting to U.S. 6 west and U.S. 11, while the right lane connects to Interstate 476/Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike south to Allentown and Philadelphia. Photo taken by Chris Elbert (07/06).
Perspective from U.S. 6 east
U.S. 6 east follows U.S. 11 south through Clarks Summit, turns onto the brief freeway connection to Interstate 81, then turns south on Interstate 81 to its freeway connection to Carbondale. After exiting from U.S. 11, this sign greets travelers on eastbound U.S. 6. Turn right to follow U.S. 6 east to Interstate 81, or continue straight ahead to follow Interstate 476 south to Allentown and Philadelphia. Photo taken by Chris Elbert (07/06).
After the junction with parent Interstate 76 at Exit 16, northbound Interstate 476 next approaches Exits 18A-B, Ridge Pike, which serves Conshohocken. The first signs to advise of the pending junction with Interstate 276 and Interstate 476 are these roadside signs located prior to Exits 18A-B. Photo taken by Photo taken 05/07/05.
Northbound Interstate 476 reaches Exit 18A, Ridge Pike, which serves Conshohocken. The next exit is Exit 18B, Chemical Road to Norristown, followed by Exit 19, Germantown Pike. Photo taken by Photo taken 05/07/05.
Reaching Exit 19, Germantown Pike east to Plymouth Meeting, northbound Interstate 476 approaches the junction with Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike. Photo taken by Photo taken 05/07/05.
Use the Germantown Pike west/Plymouth Road ramp (Exit 20) to connect to westbound Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike. Otherwise, all lanes of Interstate 476 and the connection to Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike east require passage through the toll plaza. Between 1993 and 1996, Interstate 476 ended here, and Pennsylvania 9 continued north along the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Photo taken by Photo taken 05/07/05.
After the toll plaza, the left lane continues north along Interstate 476, while the right lane connects to Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike east to New Jersey. Photo taken by Photo taken 05/07/05.
Northbound Interstate 476 and eastbound Interstate 276 split here. The right two lanes directly connect onto Interstate 276, while the two left lanes carry Interstate 476 north to Allentown and Scranton. Photo taken by Photo taken 05/07/05.
Perspective from Interstate 476 (Former Pennsylvania 9) south
Traveling south on Interstate 476/Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the final exit on the tolled section of Interstate 476 is the junction with Interstate 276. Four control cities are posted: Chester via Interstate 476 south, Philadelphia via Interstate 476 south to Interstate 76 east, Harrisburg via Interstate 276 west to Interstate 76 west, and New Jersey via Interstate 276 east. Photo taken 07/04/05.
An overhead sign for the continuation of Interstate 476 south to Philadelphia and Chester is posted after the preceding roadside sign. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Interstate 276, which carries the Pennsylvania Turnpike east to New Jersey and west to Interstate 76 en route to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, has connections for both directions from southbound Interstate 476. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Southbound Interstate 476 connects to Interstate 276 west to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh first, then connects to Interstate 276 east to New Jersey second. Photo taken 07/04/05.
A loop ramp carries traffic from southbound Interstate 476/Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to eastbound Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike east to New Jersey. After this exit, Interstate 476 exits the tollway system and becomes part of the Blue Route. The Blue Route carries Interstate 476 south from Plymouth Meeting to Chester. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Perspective from Interstate 276 east
Now traveling east on Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike, this is the first sign to advise of the pending interchange with Interstate 476 and Norristown (Exit 333). Photo taken 08/30/05.
Interstate 476 is now the Northeast Extension, but prior to 1995 it was designated as Pennsylvania 9. Some of the signs of this vintage have an Interstate 476 pasted over the top of a Pennsylvania 9 shield. Photo taken 08/30/05.
To connect from Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike east to Interstate 476, one must use Exit 333, Norristown to make the connection. Ongoing construction at the time (to widen Interstate 276 to six lanes) resulted in only temporary signs in place at Exit 333. Photo taken 08/30/05.
Continuing east on Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike, the next exit is the connection to Interstate 476 north to Allentown, Wilkes Barre, and Scranton. Photo taken 08/30/05.
Eastbound Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike reaches Exit 334, Junction Interstate 476 north. Interstate 476 passes over Interstate 276 on the bridge overhead. Photo taken 08/30/05.
The connection from Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike east to Interstate 476 north is a loop ramp. Continue east on Interstate 276 to Interstate 95/New Jersey Turnpike. Photo taken 08/30/05.
Perspective from Germantown Pike north
This view shows the connection to Interstate 476/Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike as seen from northbound Germantown Pike (former U.S. 422) in Plymouth Meeting. Photo taken 09/01/05.
The connection between Germantown Pike and Interstate 276 and Interstate 476 is afforded by a short freeway connector. The interchange between Germantown Pike and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Connector is a trumpet, and a loop ramp connects from northbound Germantown Pike to the connector. Photo taken 09/01/05.
A Pennsylvania Turnpike trailblazer is posted at the gore point for the ramp to the connector. Photo taken 09/01/05.
Now on the connector, the left lane connects to Interstate 276 west to Interstate 76 west to Harrisburg. The right lane connects to Interstate 276 east to Interstate 476 north. Photo taken 09/01/05.