Interstate 476 Pennsylvania

The Lehigh Tunnel carries Interstate 476 (Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension) under Blue Mountain. Opened in 1957, the tunnel consisted originally of just a single bore, with one lane of traffic in each direction. A second bore was added during construction from 1989 to November 1991. The tunnel (and the rest of the Northeast Extension) became a part of Interstate 476 in fall 1996. Photo taken 12/19/16.

Routing

Interstate 476 begins at Interstate 95 in urban Chester, Pennsylvania. The commuter freeway extends north along the Mid-County Expressway through the western suburbs of Philadelphia, to I-76 at Conshohocken and the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-276) at Plymouth Meeting. This stretch of freeway is locally known as the "Blue Route", a nickname referencing the alignment selected during the planning process for the route. Ramp meters operate along the route as well.

Northward from Interstate 276, I-476 overlays the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Interstate 81 at Clarks Summit. The tolled portion of the route serves both commuters in Montgomery County and travelers bound for the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Originally only 21 miles in length, the initial length of the "Blue Route" was fully approved by AASHTO on June 9, 1991 after completion of Interstate 476 between I-95 and Conshohocken. The freeway retained this length for less than five years, as further extension was approved in 1996 north to the vicinity of Scranton. At that time, I-476 became the longest three-digit Interstate highway in the system with approximately 130 miles. The route surpassed the previous longest three-digit Interstate route, I-495 around Boston, Massachusetts. Furthermore, several two-digit Interstate routes, such as I-12 in Louisiana, I-19 in Arizona, and I-97 in Maryland are all shorter than Interstate 476.

Scranton Beltway

A $170 million project by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will improve access between Interstates 81 and 476 south and north of Scranton and convert the Northeast Extension to all electronic tolling (AET). The work is aimed to divert some of the through traffic away from I-81 in Scranton onto the Northeast Extension between Dupont and Clarks Summit. A contract for design work should be awarded in January 2017, with construction projected to run through 2023.5

Local officials advocated expansion of I-81 through the Scranton area in the mid-2000s, but costs were already estimated at $1 billion. The Scranton Beltway project provides a cheaper alternative to widening Interstate 81 from Nanticoke north to Clarks Summit. A subsequent study by PennDOT also concluded that improved accessibility to the Northeast Extension may shift 2,500 vehicles per day (vpd) away from I-81 north and 2,200 (vpd) away from I-81 south, including a potential of 80% or more of truck traffic. 2016 traffic counts on the northernmost section of I-476 top out around 10,000 vpd, while the busiest stretch of I-81 to the east peaks at 70,000 vpd.5

Parallel U.S. Routes

The Northeast Extension section of Interstate 476 travels west of former U.S. 611 between Philadelphia and Scranton. U.S. 611 was decommissioned in 1972, with portions of the route renumbered as PA 611 and PA 435. U.S. 309 paralleled the Turnpike north from the Fort Washington Expressway to Quakertown before crossing paths with I-476 at Allentown. Downgraded to a state route in 1968, the historic U.S. highway looped west and north from the Interstate 476 corridor to Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre. U.S. 11 runs along I-81 within the vicinity of I-476 between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

History

Prior to 1964, the Pennsylvania Turnpike mainline and Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia were designated as Interstate 80S. As such, the branch routes in the Philadelphia area were proposed as I-280 for the Pennsylvania Turnpike east from Valley Forge (current I-276), I-480 for the Mid-County Expressway (I-476), and I-680 for the loop through South Philadelphia and across the Walt Whitman Bridge (I-676, before I-76 switched places with I-676 along the Vine Street Expressway).

Early plans for a limited access route through the west Philadelphia suburbs called for a toll road. Dubbed the Chester Extension, the Pennsylvania Turnpike branch was projected to run south from Plymouth Meeting to Chester. The Federal Highway Act in 1956 shifted jurisdiction of the corridor away from the PA Turnpike Commission to the Pennsylvania Department of Highways.2

Mid-County Expressway

Interstate 476 was originally programmed along the Mid-County Expressway, or "Blue Route" between Interstates 95 and the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange with the Northeast Extension. The Blue Route was one of three alternatives considered for the expressway (see a map of the routes at PAHighways and on the AARoads Forum). Initial construction of I-476 resulted in the completion of two unused roadways by 1978 in the Broomall and Radnor areas. These roads sat idle for many years due to environmental protests and rising construction costs. The first segment opened to traffic was the section between Interstate 76 at Conshohocken and Chemical Road at Plymouth Meeting in 1979.2

Construction of the remaining Mid-County Expressway, however, would be placed on hold until 1985 due to red tape and community opposition.2 Thus, several compromises were made to the overall design of the highway between Interstates 76 and 95. Of these, 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 changes, the highway project may have been scrapped.

The southern terminus interchange with I-95 was constructed in 1975. It was not used by drivers until August 17, 1988,2, when the MacDade Boulevard connector, a three-quarters of a mile segment of freeway linking I-95 with MacDade Boulevard at Woodlyn, opened to traffic. Signs for at the semi-directional T interchange referenced "To MacDade Boulevard" until December 19, 19912, when Interstate 476 was completed between MacDade Boulevard (Exit 1) and I-76 (Exit 16).

The final segment of I-476 opened 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 directional cloverleaf interchange at I-276. Replacing a tight trumpet interchange between I-276 and PA 9, construction on the three-level interchange with I-476 commenced in late 1989. It was opened on December 16, 1992.2

Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension

Interstate 476 feeds directly into the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Previously designated as Pennsylvania 9, the tollway provided a connection between Philadelphia, Allentown and Scranton. It opened to traffic in stages from November 1955 to November 1957,2 only a year after the last mile of the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike was finished. (For more on the history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, visit Pennsylvania Turnpike History (Official Site) and Jeff Kitsko's Pennsylvania Highways: Interstate 476 page)

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 the Lehigh Tunnel. Construction of a 4380-foot long second bore for the Lehigh Tunnel addressed that issue when it started on February 14, 1989. The new southbound lanes for PA 9 were completed on November 22, 1991.1

This action removed the bottleneck along PA 9 and was the catalyst to redesignate the Northeast Extension as an Interstate Highway. 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. To that end, transportation planners again submitted plans to unify the entire route under one number, and on April 23, 1995, AASHTO approved the extension of Interstate 476 from I-276 north to I-81 near Dickson City via former Pennsylvania 9. 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.

The new Jim Thorpe/Lake Harmony interchange opened to traffic along Interstate 476 (Northeast Extension) on July 7, 2015. The E-ZPass-only exit for Pennsylvania 903 uses all electronic toll (AET) collection with no toll by plate options. The exchange cost $40 million to build.6

Highway Guides

Southern Terminus - Interstate 95 - Chester, Pennsylvania
Perspective from Interstate 476 south
Ramps from MacDade Boulevard intertwine with the southernmost extent of Interstate 476 as it splits into two lane ramps for Interstate 95 south through Chester and north to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). Photo taken by Doug Kerr (03/25/01).
Perspective from Interstate 95 north
Interstate 95 travels below grade through northern reaches of Chester as it approaches the south end of I-476 (Exit 7). The northbound freeway sees a lane drop for the Mid-County Expressway flyover ramp. Photo taken 12/24/16.
An on-ramp from Chestnut Street adds weaving traffic to Interstate 95 north ahead of the semi-directional T interchange (Exit 7) with Interstate 476 north. This area is commonly a choke point for traffic during commuting hours. Photo taken 12/24/16.
An arrow-per-lane (APL) sign was added for Exit 7 on December 16, 20153 to reflect the expansion of the northbound ramp to two lanes. Photo taken 12/24/16.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 95 north
Replaced guide sign for Interstate 476 (Exit 7) on I-95 north ahead of the PA 352 (Edgmont Avenue) overpass in Chester. Signs for I-476 north omit Media and other Chester County suburbs in favor of Plymouth Meeting, the junction point with Interstate 276 and the Northeast Extension. Photo taken 07/27/07.
The 1975 design of the exchange with I-476 results in a bottleneck along Interstate 95, where the freeway reduces from six lanes to four from the south. Clearview-font based overheads replaced signs at the Melrose Avenue overpass by 2012. Photo taken 05/07/05.
Northbound drivers along I-95 span both Ridley Creek and Bullens Lane leading to the Exit 7 gore point with Interstate 476 north. This ramp opened to local traffic in 1988 to MacDade Boulevard. Photo taken 05/07/05.
Perspective from Interstate 95 south
Interstate 95 passes through the diamond interchange (Exit 8) with Stewart Avenue with four southbound lanes. A diagrammatic sign outlines the forthcoming split with I-476 north, where the I-95 mainline reduces to two through lanes. Photo taken 06/03/12.
Spanning the AMTRAK Northeast Corridor, I-95 shifts northward into the semi-directional T interchange (Exit 7) with Interstate 476. The Blue Route leads commuters north to Media, Springfield and Wayne among other suburban communities. I-95 south passes through the industrial city of Chester on the 11-mile drive to Wilmington, Delaware.
Sign changes made here by 2015 added an exit only placard for Interstate 476 north. Photo taken 06/03/12.
Two lanes veer away from Interstate 95 south for I-476 north leading directly to MacDade Boulevard near north Chester and Woodlyn. Interstate 476 winds northward with four lanes to PA 3 at Broomall and six lanes from there to Plymouth Meeting. Photo taken 06/03/12.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 95 south
Overheads for I-476 north previously displayed state-named shields for the Mid-County Expressway. Original concrete along I-95 at the exchange was paved over with asphalt in 2007. Photo taken by Chris Mason (06/23/02).
Northern Terminus - Interstate 81, U.S. 6 and U.S. 11 - Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania
Perspective from Interstate 476 (Northeast Extension) north
Interstate 476 hooks northeast through South Abington Township on the final two miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension. Photo taken 09/27/09.
The Clarks Summit Interchange connects I-476 with both Interstate 81 & U.S. 6 and parallel 11 as they travel through a valley by Bell Mountain southeast into Scranton. Photo taken 09/27/09.
Interstate 476 curves southward to a mainline toll plaza preceding the trumpet interchange (Exit 131) with access roads to both Interstate 81 and U.S. 11. Photo taken 09/27/09.
U.S. 6 uses the access roads with I-476 (Northeast Extension) to make the connection between overlaps with U.S. 11 north to Clarks Summit and I-81 south to Dickson City and its freeway to Carbondale. Photo taken 09/27/09.
Following the access road (U.S. 6) east to Interstate 81, drivers partition for ramps south to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and north to Binghamton and Syracuse. Photo taken 09/27/09.
Perspective from Interstate 81 south
Traveling east of the boroughs of Clarks Green and Clarks Summit, Interstate 81 passes by several subdivisions on the two mile approach to Exit 194 with the Pennsylvania Turnpike access road (U.S. 6) for I-476 south and U.S. 11.
All guide signs for Exit 194 on I-81 south were carbon copied to use Clearview font by 2012. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Supplemental guide signs are posted in each direction of I-81 with the long distance control cities of Allentown and Philadelphia for the Northeast Extension.
Photo taken 07/04/05.
Bald Mountain appears on the southwest horizon as Interstate 81 nears the trumpet interchange (Exit 194) for I-476 (Northeast Extension) south. Interstate 476 crosses paths with I-81 again near milepost 181. The toll road provides a bypass of Scranton by following the east slopes of Bald Mountain. Photo taken 07/04/05.
I-81 south crosses Leggetts Creek ahead of the off-ramp (Exit 194) for I-476 and adjacent U.S. 6 west & 11 north into Clarks Summit. Beyond Clarks Summit and Factoryville, U.S. 6 west & 11 north divide. U.S. 6 continues west toward Tunkhannock, Towanda, Mansfield and Wellsboro. U.S. 11 extends north to Binghamton, New York. Photo taken 07/04/05.
U.S. 6 east enters Interstate 81 at Exit 194, using the turnpike access roads with I-476 to connect from U.S. 11. The US highway overlaps with I-81 southeast to Exit 187, where it departs via a freeway to Carbondale. Interstate 476 meanwhile bypasses Scranton to the west before shifting east of Wilkes-Barre en route to Allentown, 75 miles to the south. Photo taken 07/04/05.
Perspective from Interstate 81 north & U.S. 6 west
Interstate 81 & U.S. 6 circumvent Bell Mountain northwest from Dickson City through to South Abington Township and the exchanges with Interstate 476 and U.S. 11.
The two-mile sign bridge here was removed during construction to expand the freeway footprint outwards in 2014. Photo taken 07/01/05.
Nearing Exit 194 for the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike on I-81 north & U.S. 6 west. Traffic counts are generally low 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.
Motorists span Scott Road on the one mile approach to Exit 194. U.S. 6 west splits with I-81 north to utilize the three trumpet interchanges joining the north end of I-476 with I-81 and adjacent U.S. 11. Photo taken 07/01/05.
Northbound Interstate 81 reaches the off-ramp (Exit 194) for U.S. 6 west to I-476 south and U.S. 11. U.S. 6 was realigned onto Interstate 81 when the freeway opened between Interstates 81, 84 and 380 and Carbondale by 2000. North from Scranton, I-81 advances 50 miles to I-86 outside Binghamton, New York. Photo taken by Chris Elbert (07/06).
Perspective from U.S. 6 west
Traffic from both I-81 north and south bound for I-476 combines ahead of a trumpet interchange with the Northeast Extension mainline. The immediate ramp leads south to Wilkes-Barre while U.S. 6 uses the second ramp to follow the ending turnpike mainline at U.S. 11. 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 to the trumpet interchange with the Northeast Extension end. A single lane of traffic leads the US route north to the access road linking the PA Turnpike with adjacent I-81. Interstate 476 south otherwise passes through a main line toll plaza before swinging southwest to Bald Mountain. Photo taken by Chris Elbert (07/06).

Sources:

  1. America's Tunnel Highway: Tunnels are a Rich Part of Turnpike History... http://www.paturnpike.com/tools/
    newsletters/summer98/page-4.htm
    by Lowman S. Henry.
  2. Pennsylvania Highways: Interstate 476.
  3. "Travel Restrictions Scheduled on at I-95/I-476 Interchange in Delaware County." Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 6, news release, December 11, 2015.
  4. "Blue Route ramp meters back in operation." Delaware County Daily Times, February 25, 2010.
  5. "Scranton Beltway taking next step." The Times-Tribune (Scranton PA), December 6, 2016.
  6. "PA Turnpike Celebrates Opening of Route 903 'E-ZPass-Only' Interchange." Pennsylvania Turnpike, press release. July 7, 2015.

Page Update January 5, 2017.

Mileage

State Pennsylvania
Mileage 129.61
Cities Philadelphia, Ridley Park, Marple, Broomall, Conshohocken, Kulpsville, Allentown, Lehighton, Scranton
Junctions Interstate 95, Interstate 76, Interstate 276, Interstate 78, Interstate 80, Interstate 81
Source: December 31, 2015 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
Interstate 476 Annual Average Daily Traffic

County From: To: AADT Composite
Delaware Interstate 95 Exit 1/ MacDade Boulevard 96,000
Delaware Exit 1/ MacDade Boulevard Exit 5/ U.S. 1 Lime Springfield 107,000
Delaware Exit 5/ U.S. 1 Lime Springfield Exit 9/ PA 3 Broomall Upper Darby 96,000
Delaware Exit 9/ PA 3 Broomall Upper Darby Exit 13/ U.S. 30 St. Davids Villanova 100,000
Delaware/ Montgomery Exit 13/ U.S. 30 St. Davids Villanova Exit 16/ I-76 & PA 23 Conshocken 120,000
Montgomery Exit 18/ Ridge Road Norristown Exit 20/ I-276 & Germantown Pike 66,000
Montgomery Exit 20/ I-276 & Germantown Pike Exit 31/ PA 63 Landsdale 62,000
Montgomery/ Bucks Exit 31/ PA 63 Landsdale Exit 44/ PA 663 Quakertown 47,000
Bucks/ Lehigh Exit 44/ PA 663 Quakertown Lehigh County line 41,000
Lehigh Bucks County line Exit 56/ I-78, U.S. 22 & PA 309 Allentown 34,000
Lehigh/ Carbon Exit 56/ I-78, U.S. 22 & PA 309 Allentown Exit 74/ U.S. 209 Lehighton Jim Thorpe 27,000
Carbon Exit 74/ U.S. 209 Lehighton Jim Thorpe Exit 95/ I-80 & PA 940 Pocono 23,000
Carbon/ Luzerne Exit 95/ I-80 & PA 940 Pocono Exit 105/ PA 115 Bear Creek 16,000
Luzerne Exit 105/ PA 115 Bear Creek Exit 115/ I-81 & PA 315 Wyoming Valley 10,000
Luzerne/ Lackawanna Exit 115/ I-81 & PA 315 Wyoming Valley Exit 122/ Keyser Avenue 7,900
Lackawanna Exit 122/ Keyser Avenue Exit 131/ I-81 & U.S. 6-11 Clarks Summit 8,000
Source: Pennsylvania Traffic Volumes 2002 (Penndot)
1961 map of Philadelphia showing Interstates 76 as 80S, 276 as 280, 476 as 480 and 676 as 680. As no section of the Mid-County Expressway predates the I-80S renumbering to I-76, I-480 was purely a paper designation.
Philadelphia - 1975 Pennsylvania Official Highway Map
Three stretches of Interstate 476 were under construction by the mid-1970s. The sections south of I-76 would not open to traffic until 1991, while the northern portion, including a crossing of the Schuylkill River, opened in 1979. Shields for I-476 were added to button copy signs on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for the Norristown Interchange in the 1980s.
Exit brochures were distributed in late 1991 and early 1992 for the newly completed Interstate 476 through Delaware and Montgomery Counties. The maps displayed ramp configurations for each interchange and included a short history of the Blue Route. [Click the image to view the brochure]
Ramp meters were activated at interchanges along Interstate 476 in 1996. Brochures were distributed to both educate the public of their operation and show their locations [click for the full brochure].
The Blue Route ramp meters were deactivated in 2008 for a $2 million system overhaul with fiber-optic and other upgrades. The signals were reactivated on February 24, 2010.4
A Breezewood connection joins Interstates 80 and 476 (Northeast Extension) at Kidder Township. Trumpet interchanges from both routes tie into access roads intersecting Pennsylvania 940 opposite one another. An array of traveler services line the state route nearby. Photo taken 12/19/16.