Interstate 676
Vine Street Expressway


Another "missing-link" that was completed in 1991, Interstate 676 has had a long and varied history.  The earliest section to be built of this Interstate was, of course, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge then named the Delaware River Bridge.  Construction began on January 6, 1922 and was completed on July 1, 1926.

After the opening of the bridge, Vine Street became an important east-west route through the city.  It became so busy that in 1930, the Philadelphia City Council recommended an elevated expressway be built along that right-of-way.  In 1945, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission proposed a depressed six-lane expressway along Vine Street, complete with service roads, stone-arch overpasses, and landscaping similar to a New York City parkway.  The cost of this project would run an estimated $26 million.  In 1949, the Department of Highways approved this plan, and work to widen the existing Vine Street began to allow the construction of the expressway.

In 1950, the Philadelphia Planning Commission laid out the path of the expressway.  The entire length would feature 12-foot-wide lanes:  three in each direction.  Eight-foot-wide shoulders, a four-foot-wide median with a reflectorized curb, 14-foot minimum clearances, and a design speed of 50 MPH.  From 18th Street to Broad Street, the expressway would have one-way service roads with two-lanes in each direction on either side of the highway.  Construction began in 1957 and was completed on June 30, 1959.

Even as work was getting underway on that section, planners were looking to the future.  In 1957, the Department of Highways began conducting feasibility studies on extending the expressway from Broad Street to Sixth Street and the Ben Franklin Bridge.  When the study was concluded, the eastern extension to the bridge was recommended.  The design would be a depressed six-lane expressway with one-way service roads on either side.  Public meetings on the expressway plan occurred in March 1966.

With the start of the 1970s, changes in legal guidelines for construction of Interstates began to take their toll.  In July 1973, the Federal Highway Administration ruled that any highway project approved prior to 1971 were subject to re-evaluation.  In November 1973, the FHWA determined that a new environmental impact statement was required because previous studies neglected air and noise, as well as other impacts from the expressway.  In 1977, PennDOT and the FHWA released the revised environmental impact statement for the Vine Street Expressway.

Even though the EIS was approved by the Federal Highway Administration, dirt did not start to fly.  Another decade of hearings and design revisions would continue until 1986, when Governor Robert Casey revived the project.  Some changes were made to the original plan to get the Interstate completed.  Four 12-foot-lanes were built from 18th Street to 10th Street with 12-foot shoulders, elevated ramps from the expressway to the Ben Franklin Bridge were not constructed so as not to mar the aesthetics of Franklin Square where Ben Franklin made his discovery of electricity, but a directional-T interchange was built at Interstate 95.

Proposed direct connection to the Ben Franklin Bridge
Proposed direct connection to the Ben Franklin Bridge (University of Pennsylvania Archives)
 
Cross-sections of the layout of the Vine Street Expressway
Cross-sections of the layout of the Vine Street Expressway (University of Pennsylvania Archives)

The section between Broad Street and the Ben Franklin Bridge interchange was finally completed on January 10, 1991, with the section to Interstate 95 opening six months later, all at a cost of $225 million.  Still being a relatively new highway in 1998, PennDOT and the Delaware River Port Authority began that year to convert the westbound shoulder from the Ben Franklin Bridge approach to the Broad Street interchange into a third westbound lane which concluded in 1999.  In the early 2000s, PennDOT installed variable message signs and traffic cameras were installed on the expressway as part of a greater Intelligent Transportation System implementation across Philadelphia.

Wear and tear began to take its toll on the surface of the expressway by the late 2000s.  On July 27, 2009, a $3.6 million project began to replace 77 sections of deteriorated pavement between 18th Street and Interstate 95.  This was the first rehabilitation project in the Commonwealth to use pre-cast steel reinforced concrete slabs to replace cracked and worn sections of concrete.  It was done this way in order to reduce traffic impacts by as much as ten hours versus pouring fresh concrete and waiting for it to cure as well as shaving time off the length of the project.  After the slabs were installed, work continued until December to diamond grind the pavement to eliminate any imperfections in the surface, seal joints, paint new lane markings, and install reflectors in the pavement and on barriers.

But is Interstate 676 really finished?  Some beg to differ because PennDOT maps show the blue Interstate stripe missing the Ben Franklin Bridge entirely and ending at Interstate 95.  Although, New Jersey DOT maps have Interstate 676 from the bridge to I-76 in southern New Jersey and the Delaware River Port Authority considers the bridge as I-676.  To keep a consistency on both sides of the Delaware River, both Departments of Transportation place the designation on signs leading to the bridge.  However, this route might not be so ambiguous for much longer.  The DRPA conducted traffic studies in 2009 on improving traffic flow across the bridge and one solution is to build the missing ramp from the expressway to the Ben Franklin Bridge which is estimated to cost $120 million.  Improvements to traffic signal timing, signage, markings in the Franklin Square area would be performed in the first phase of this project.

It takes a really big snow storm to close roads and that is exactly what hit on February 9, 2010.  Governor Rendell took proactive measures and closed I-676 at 2:00 PM the following day.  In a press release he stated, "For your safety, do not drive.  You will risk your life and, potentially, the lives of others if you get stuck on highways or any road.  The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for several counties in Pennsylvania and visibility is at or near zero."  The Vine Street Expressway reopened at 5 AM on February 11.

Links:
Exit Guide
Interstate 676 Ends
Interstate 676 Pictures
Interstate 680 (Decommissioned)
E-ZPass - Delaware River Port Authority
Benjamin Franklin Bridge - Delaware River Port Authority
Benjamin Franklin Bridge - Independence Hall Association
Benjamin Franklin Bridge - Steve Anderson
Highway Feature of the Week-Interstate 676 - Michael Koerner
I-676 Interchange Browser - Tim Reichard
I-676 Vine Street Expressway - Scott Kozel
I-676 Vine Street Expressway Pictures - Alex Nitzman
Interstate 676 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 676 - Scott Oglesby
Interstate 676 Pictures - Steve Alpert
Interstate 676 Pictures - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 676 Pictures - Eric Stuve
Vine Street Expressway - Steve Anderson


INFORMATION
Western Terminus: I-76 at Exit 344 in Philadelphia
Eastern Terminus: I-95 at Exit 22 in Philadelphia
Length: 2.74 miles
National Highway System: Entire length
Name: Vine Street Expressway
SR Designation: 0676
County: Philadelphia
Multiplexed Route: US 30:  I-76 to the Ben Franklin Bridge
Former Designations: I-80S (1957 - 1958)
I-895  (1958 - 1960)
I-80S (1960 - 1963):  Schuylkill Expressway to PA 611
I-76 (1963 - 1974):  Schuylkill Expressway to PA 611
Emergency: 911
Traffic.com
Traffic Conditions:
I-76 to I-95 (Eastbound)
I-95 to I-76 (Westbound)
PennDOT
Traffic Cameras:
24th Street (Westbound)
Ben Franklin Parkway (Eastbound)
20th Street (Westbound)
18th Street (Westbound)
16th Street (Eastbound)
Broad Street (Westbound)
11th Street (Westbound)
8th Street (Eastbound)
3rd Street (Eastbound)

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Page updated August 31, 2013.
Content and graphics, unless otherwise noted, copyright Jeffrey J. Kitsko. All rights reserved.
Information sign courtesy of Richard C. Moeur.
Traffic.com logo courtesy of Traffic.com, Inc.
Information courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Rand McNally, Delaware River Port Authority, Philadelphia Inquirer, KYW-TV Philadelphia, the Easton Express-Times, Bucks Local News, United Alert, and Steve Anderson.