78th Division Highway
With its start from the Department of Highways as an upgraded US 22, Interstate 78 became one of the first Interstates in Pennsylvania to get the familiar red, white, and blue shields. In 1950, the section from the Lebanon County line to Exit 13 was upgraded, while construction began on the section from Exit 13 to Exit 17. That section was completed in 1951. In 1952, construction began on the Lehigh Valley Thruway from the current interchange with US 22 to New Jersey. In 1954, the highway was under construction from Exit 17 to Exit 19. That same year, the first section of the Lehigh Valley Thruway opened to traffic from west of PA 100 to the PA 987 interchange. The remainder of the expressway from PA 987 to New Jersey opened in 1955. Also that year, the section from Exit 17 to Exit 19 opened to traffic.
Construction began in 1956 on the section from Exit 23 to Exit 30, and in 1957 from Exit 30 to the Lehigh County line. Those two sections opened in 1958. In 1959, the section from the Berks County line to west of PA 100 opened.
In 1964, several sections were on the drawing board. The first section was from Interstate 81 to Fredericksburg, and the other was from the current PA 248 interchange south and east around Easton and into Phillipsburg, New Jersey. In 1965, the proposed new alignment was extended from Fredericksburg to the Berks County line. At that time, Interstate 78 would have gone south of the borough closer to the US 22 alignment. In 1968, construction began from Interstate 81, which was itself under construction, to the Berks County line.
In 1968, the NIMBYers in Phillipsburg, New Jersey successfully fought I-78 coming through their town. This was for the best since there are several dangerous curves on the Lehigh Valley Thruway near Easton. In 1969, the Department of Highways proposed a new Interstate 78 alignment to leave between Exit 45 and Exit 49, travel south and turn east near Emmaus and continue south of Allentown and Bethlehem. It would cross the Delaware River north of Raubsville, Pennsylvania.
In 1970, the section from Interstate 81 to the Berks County line opened to traffic. It would be the last new section of Interstate 78 to open for 19 years.
The first exit numbers to appear on the 1975 PennDOT map showed Interstate 78 with mileage based exit numbers, which reappeared in 2001. The last time mileage-based exit numbers were shown on Interstate 78 was on the 1978 map.
Construction finally began in 1984 on the long-awaited southern bypass of the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area, from PA 309 east to New Jersey. New Jersey DOT took over construction of their missing link from the toll bridge to US 22 east of Phillipsburg. In 1986, the connection from the US 22 interchange to PA 309 was still proposed, with construction beginning on it in 1987. The new 32-mile-long, $402 million section of Interstate 78 along with the 1,222-foot-long Interstate 78 Toll Bridge opened to traffic on November 21, 1989, thus finally completing Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Governor Robert P. Casey said, "Completion of I-78 represents a major achievement for Pennsylvania, for our neighbors in New Jersey and for the nation. It represents a new road to opportunity for Lehigh Valley companies to grow and prosper. We open new arteries for safer, better access for the thousands of commuters who travel to work each day in a resurgent Lehigh Valley economy." This was just one of many expressways proposed for 30 years and never started until the 1980s in Pennsylvania.
In May 1990, Federal Highway Administrator Thomas D. Larson, a former Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation, had his first opportunity to drive on the new Interstate. Recalling the "decades of acrimonious debate and delay," he said that building the missing link "involved major compromises, attention to environmental concerns, and careful consensus building." He added, "It is really amazing just how superior this road is to older Interstates."
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 will be remembered more for the snow and ice storm than romantic evenings for most of eastern Pennsylvania. Even those just passing through, or attempting to, on the Interstate won't soon forget Valentine's Day 2007. As conditions began to deteriorate with seven inches of snow followed by three inches of ice, several tractor-trailers began to jack-knife and smaller accidents occur which blocked the westbound lanes west of Allentown. PennDOT estimated at one point that hundreds of tractor-trailers were stuck due to conditions, running out of fuel, or fuel freezing. More than 130 National Guardsmen began using Humvees and other vehicles around 9 PM to help control traffic, pass out food, blankets, and baby supplies and rescue motorists. Police took fuel and food to some motorists.
Aerial view of the back-up near PA 100. (KYW-TV)
National Guardsmen delivering supplies. (KYW-TV)
Department of Transportation crews began to block off parts of I-78 around 8 AM on Thursday but more traffic continued to get into the gridlock because other entrances were still open. State Police did not close all of the ramps from Exit 19 to Exit 49 until around 5 PM, more than 24 hours after the initial vehicles began to get stuck. By 9 PM, PennDOT said all motorists had been cleared off I-78, but there were still vehicles being towed off the Interstate. The storm and the problems it caused forced Governor Ed Rendell to declare a statewide disaster emergency which authorized state agencies to use all available resources and personnel to assist in relief. It took 150 employees with 141 pieces of equipment to clear the ice and snow off I-78, I-80, and I-81. Another stipulation of the emergency declaration was halting toll collection on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to help in cross-state travel from February 15 to February 17. At 4 PM that same day, Interstate 78 reopened to traffic.
In the wake of the mishandling of the storm, a bipartisan House committee was formed and a state-ordered investigation begun. Two hearings would take place between February 22 and 23, but several high-ranking state officials including Secretary of Transportation Allen Biehler and State Police Commissioner Colonel Jeffrey Miller stepped forward on February 21 to accept responsibility. Gregory C. Fajt, a senior adviser to Governor Rendell who helped begin a preliminary investigation, said, "We didn't execute well in the storm's early states, and didn't escalate our response when we fell behind in some key areas." James Lee Witt Associates, a firm headed by the former FEMA director, was hired to conduct a separate review of the response.
After the February 2007 storm and aftermath, it was determined that something would have to be done to prevent travelers from being stranded on the Interstate. What you might notice in the above pictures, one side of I-78 is clogged with traffic but the other is clear with the only problem being the Jersey barrier. Work to rectify that problem started on September 8, 2009, by installing movable median barrier gates at five points in Berks County between Exit 19 and the Lehigh County line. The gates will allow emergency personnel to open the median so the Pennsylvania State Police can divert traffic from one side of the Interstate to the other side in the event of an emergency closure. The project cost $1,027,000 million and finished in December.
Another project to help traffic flow was getting off the drawing boards as well around the same time as that one. The I-78 Open Road Tolling (ORT) Project at the Interstate 78 Toll Bridge in Easton began with a $4,786,000 design-build contract being awarded to A.P. Construction of Philadelphia on September 29, 2009 for partial demolition and removal of a section the canopy of the existing toll plaza; new overhead sign gantries; design fabrication, and construction of a canopy over the new ORT lanes; design and construction of a concrete barrier to separate the ORT lanes from the regular toll lanes; lane restriping of the Interstate; and design and construction of electrical systems at the toll plaza for the ORT equipment. Then on November 23, 2009, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission awarded a contract in the amount of $764,945.62 to Hill International, Inc. of Marlton, New Jersey for construction and inspection services for the project. Construction began January 8, 2010 and required removal of three toll collection lanes on the left side of the existing plaza which originally consisted of seven lanes which caused congestion during weekday evening rush hours. Relief for westbound travelers came on May 13, 2010 when the two Open Road Tolling, or sometimes referred to as Express E-ZPass, Lanes opened to traffic allowing it to continue through the plaza at highway speeds while still paying the toll. They opened 13 days sooner than expected, but the entire project didn't finish until June 30.
Interstate 78 Ends
Interstate 78 Pictures
E-ZPass - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
Interstate 78 Toll Bridge - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
Open Road Tolling - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
I-78 Interchange Browser - Tim Reichard
Interstate 78 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 78 - David Steinberg
Interstate 78 Pictures - Steve Alpert
Interstate 78 Pictures (Eastbound) - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 78 Pictures (Westbound) - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
|Western Terminus:||I-81 at Exit 1 five miles west of Fredericksburg|
|Eastern Entrance:||New Jersey state line at the Interstate 78 Toll Bridge in Easton|
|National Highway System:||Entire length|
|Names:||78th Division Highway
William Penn Highway: Exit 8 to Exit 51
Walter J. Dealtrey Memorial Highway: Lehigh County line to New Jersey
|Counties:||Lebanon, Berks, Lehigh, and Northampton|
|Multiplexed Routes:||US 22: Exit 8 to Exit 51
PA 309: Exit 53 to Exit 60
|Former Designations:||I-80N (1957 - 1958)
US 309 (1959 - 1968): Exit 53 to Exit 60
Cedar Crest Boulevard
Morgan Hill Road
|Advisory Radio:||1630 AM|