Interstate 476 Pennsylvania
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.
A $160 million project by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will improve access between Interstate 81 and I-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. It was previously anticipated that a contract for design work could be awarded in January 2017, with construction projected to run through 2023.5 A revised preliminary design schedule was posted online on January 23, 2019. It outlined final design work from early 2021 to late 2022 with construction between early 2023 and late 2026.
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 might 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
One action indicated within the Scranton Beltway Feasibility Study to both better utilize I-476 and reduce congestion along I-81 would be the renumbering of I-476 as a branch of Interstate 81:
Updating existing and providing additional signage could further enhance the utilization of the connections and I-476. In addition, formalizing the Beltway by providing a dual designation (i.e. I476/I-381) to notify motorists that I-476 provides an alternate route to I-81 could further increase utilization.
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.
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
Interstate 476 was originally programmed along the Mid-County Expressway, or “Blue Route” between Interstate 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 Interstate 76 and I-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
North End – Clarks Summit, PA
South End – Chester, PA
Mileage – 130.25
Cities – Philadelphia, Ridley Park, Marple, Broomall, Conshohocken, Kulpsville, Allentown, Lehighton, Scranton
- Junctions –
Source: December 31, 2018 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
I-476 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)
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.
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
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.
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
North End – Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania
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. 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. 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 and U.S. 11 north into Clarks Summit. Beyond Clarks Summit and Factoryville, U.S. 6 west and U.S. 11 north divide. U.S. 6 continues west toward Tunkhannock, Towanda, Mansfield and Wellsboro. U.S. 11 extends north to Binghamton, New York. 07/04/05
U.S. 6 east combines with I-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. 07/04/05
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. 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 I-81, I-84 and I-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).
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 passes through a main line toll plaza before curving southwest to Bald Mountain. Photo taken by Chris Elbert (07/06).
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).
South End – Chester, Pennsylvania
Spanning the AMTRAK Northeast Corridor, I-95 shifts northward into the two-wye 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. 12/20/17
South End Throwback
- America’s Tunnel Highway: Tunnels are a Rich Part of Turnpike History…
http://www.paturnpike.com/tools/by Lowman S. Henry.
- Pennsylvania Highways: Interstate 476.
- “Travel Restrictions Scheduled on at I-95/I-476 Interchange in Delaware County.” Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 6, news release, December 11, 2015.
- “Blue Route ramp meters back in operation.” Delaware County Daily Times, February 25, 2010.
- “Scranton Beltway taking next step.” The Times-Tribune (Scranton PA), December 6, 2016.
- “PA Turnpike Celebrates Opening of Route 903 ‘E-ZPass-Only’ Interchange.” Pennsylvania Turnpike, press release. July 7, 2015.
Page updated January 10, 2010.