Z. H. Confair Memorial Highway
The longest east-west Interstate in Pennsylvania, Interstate 80 was originally conceived as the Turnpike's Sharon to Stroudsburg Lateral Connection prior to the Interstate legislation being signed. The first proposed alignment was from the Delaware Water Gap to the Susquehanna River, and one map showed the terminus in Millersburg. Later, it was revised to be a parallel highway to the mainline Turnpike. On June 29, 1956, when the Interstate Act was passed, all planning was moved to the Department of Highways. The first spade of dirt to signal the beginning of construction was shoveled on March 19, 1959 near Corsica. However, the first segment of I-80 originally opened in 1953. It was in that year that the 2, 465-foot-long Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge opened to traffic.
The first section to see construction was from Exit 308 to Exit 310 in 1959. That section opened in 1960, at the same time work began on the section from Exit 70 to Exit 78. In 1961, construction began from Exit 298 to Exit 308. In 1962, construction began from Exit 78 to Exit 86, Exit 210 to Exit 224, and the Jackson Township line to Exit 299, and that same year the section from Exit 305 to Exit 308 opened to traffic. In 1963, the sections from Exit 70 to Exit 81 and from Exit 298 to Exit 308 opened to traffic, while construction began on the following sections: Ohio state line to the Shenango River, Exit 224 to the School House Road overpass, and Exit 242 to the Luzerne County line. In 1964, the sections from Exit 81 to Exit 86 and Exit 210 to Exit 224 opened to traffic. The latter included the bridge spanning the Susquehanna River. That year construction began on numerous sections spanning the state: Shenango River to the PA 285 overpass, Wolf Creek to the Allegheny River, Exit 86 to the Stevenson Hill Road overpass, Exit 236 to Exit 242, Luzerne County line to Exit 273, Exit 274 to the Jackson Township line.
In 1965, the sections from Exit 236 to Exit 242 and Exit 293 to Exit 298 opened while construction began on the sections from the PA 285 overpass to Wolf Creek, the weight stations at mile marker 57 to Exit 60, Exit 111 to the Graham Township line, Browns Run to just east of the Boggs Township line, School House Road overpass to Exit 236, and Exit 273 to Exit 274. In 1966, Interstate 80 opened from Exit 29 to Exit 42, Exit 242 to Exit 256, and Exit 273 to Exit 293. Construction began on the sections from the Allegheny River to the weight stations at mile marker 57, Exit 60 to Exit 64, Exit 97 to Exit 101, Graham Township line to the Deer Creek Road overpass, east of the Boggs Township line to Exit 161, and the White Deer Pike to Exit 210. In 1967, the sections from Exit 4 to Exit 29 which included the cloverleaf with Interstate 79, Exit 111 to Exit 123, Exit 224 to Exit 236, and Exit 256 to Exit 273 opened to traffic. In that same year, construction began on the sections from Exit 64 to Exit 70, Deer Creek Road overpass to the Graham Township line, Exit 161 to Exit 173, and Exit 178 to Exit 185. In 1968, the sections from the Ohio state line to Exit 4, Exit 42 to Exit 70, Exit 123 to Exit 133, and Exit 161 to Exit 173 opened to traffic. Also, construction began on the sections from Stevenson Hill Road overpass to Exit 97 and Exit 173 to Exit 178 that year. In 1969, the section from Exit 133 to Exit 161 opened to traffic and construction began on the sections from Exit 101 to Exit 111 and Exit 185 to White Deer Pike which signaled that Interstate 80 was either complete or under construction for its journey through the Commonwealth.
The final section of Interstate to be paved was near the PA 153 interchange on June 24, 1970. Following a traditional ceremony, the construction workers put their mark on, or I should say in, Interstate 80 with Department of Transportation and Keystone Shortway Association officials looking on. One worker tossed his hardhat into the air and watched it disappear into the concrete. Transportation Secretary Victor W. Anckaitis said it was an old custom in the highway construction industry; however, usually workers paving the final section toss coins into the concrete as a symbol of "putting their two cents into the job."
On September 17, 1970, the remaining sections from Exit 86 to Exit 111 and Exit 161 to Exit 210 opened to traffic, which signaled the completion of the Keystone Shortway from Ohio to New Jersey. The head of the Federal Highway Administration Frank Turner and former Administrator Bert Tallamy joined Governor Raymond Shafer in the opening ceremonies. The governor fired a flare gun which activated an electronic sign on the Goodyear Blimp, officially opening the Milesburg interchange and the entire expressway. Pennsylvania now had two limited-access highways connecting the eastern and western parts of the state. The final cost of construction was $324 million.
I-80's opening at the Milesburg Interchange.
(Federal Highway Administration)
Cover of the official program for the opening ceremonies.
One of the forward thinking ideas employed on the Interstate was the inclusion of call boxes between Milton and Stroudsburg. They were spaced at half-mile intervals and 12 feet from the edge of the highway. Direct lines would connect motorists in need to one of five Pennsylvania State Police sub-stations along the Interstate in this section of Pennsylvania. The system first started in 1967 from Exit 212 to four miles east of Exit 224 and during the 11 days of service, motorists made 105 calls. From that point to Stroudsburg it was completed in 1968, and all of it was done in cooperation with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania and Commonwealth Telephone Company of Dallas, Pennsylvania. More than 1,100,000 feet of cable was used to connect 370 telephones. Plans were in place to expand the system across the entire Pennsylvania Interstate System, especially in rural areas. Those ambitious plans would not come to fruition as this system was shut down. The only limited access highways to have call boxes end-to-end today are ones operated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The only PennDOT-maintained roadway to have them currently is Interstate 81 between mile marker 108 to 158, which ironically crosses the section of I-80 encompassed in that 95 mile stretch.
Pennsylvania's Name Designation Act of 1984 designated I-80 officially as the Z. H. Confair Memorial Highway, after the state senator who had served as the President of the Keystone Shortway Association.
Interstate 80 was in the news numerous times in the last year of the Twentieth Century. The former Representative Bud Shuster, who can't keep his hands off of other interstates, wanted to have tolls collected on I-80. The reason being that it is need of repair, and that most traffic on the highway is from out of state so tax those who use it most. The proposal was rejected by former Governor Ridge. Then an article in the April 7, 1999 Greensburg Tribune-Review reported that the Ridge Administration had gone back to this plan, but with him being selected as Secretary of Homeland Security and moving to Washington, this plan seems to have been axed. The idea of imposing a toll was not a new idea, and had gone back as far as the late Governor Milton Shapp's administration in the 1970s. The plan was resurrected in the 1980s when the Turnpike Expansion bill was signed which led to the construction of PA Turnpike 60 and PA Turnpike 66, and the completion of PA Turnpike 43.
Voted one of the "worst roads" by the readers of Overdrive magazine for most of the 1990s, Interstate 80 has rebounded on the 1999 and 2000 surveys. It came in at number one under "most improved road" on the 2000 survey. Most of the credit goes to PennDOT for rebuilding most of the 311 miles of the highway from the ground up.
December 28, 2001 was not a good day to be on the Interstate, as two massive accidents occurred due to treacherous conditions caused by winter weather. The first happened late that day at Exit 185 for Loganton. At least 63 vehicles: a dozen cars and two tractor-trailers, with one carrying flammable material, exploded into flames after the impact. Captain Coleman McDonough of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop F said police estimated at least 45 cars and six tractor-trailers in the westbound lanes and about twelve in the eastbound lanes were involved.
|Two different views of the accident scene. (The Daily Item)|
This section of Interstate was closed, causing traffic to back up for six miles on the westbound side and three miles on the eastbound side. At least 45 people were taken to local hospitals, but police did not know if any had sustained life-threatening injuries. The cause of the accident was a sudden snowstorm that created "white-out" conditions and left highways icy. One of the people involved in the accident, Joe Czapski of Dearborn, Michigan who was driving home from Boston with his wife said, "We were going west when this snow squall kicked up. It was so white out, it was impossible to see." He went on to say that they were directly behind the car that started the accident. "Suddenly this car in front of me started swerving. Then I tried to avoid him and I got hit in the back and the side. Another car hit us into the railing. It was like a chain reaction," said wife Pat Czapski. Kristen Wells of Hartford, Connecticut described the accident as this, "It was like, ‘Boom! Boom!’ Every few seconds you could hear another car exploding." As cars collided with each other and the guardrails, some vehicles ended in the ravine between the two sides of the highway. By 8 PM, all the fires had been extinguished according to Kevin Fanning, director of the Clinton County Emergency Management Agency. Wayne Hoover, Fire Chief for White Deer Township said, "I've never seen anything like it." White Deer units were finishing up at another accident on I-80 at mile marker 202 when the call for the Clinton County accidents came over the radio. Fire departments from White Deer, Warrior Run, Milton, Watsontown and Lewisburg provided assistance to Clinton County firefighters. "There were two or three cars down at the bottom of that 125-foot bank. We saw state troopers dragging people out of them," said Hoover. He went on to say, "I counted 15 cars and five tractor-trailers in one big neap and they were all burning. There may have been more cars underneath." The accident claimed eight lives. The highway reopened on Saturday, December 29.
|Various scenes of the accident. (NTV)|
At least 50 vehicles were involved in another accident late Friday afternoon near Hazleton. One person died from the accident caused by the same wintry conditions that caused the Clinton County pile-up. Several tractor-trailers were involved in the crash. Driver Tracy Collins said, "There was a whiteout, and then in like five minutes the truck went off the side of the road and everyone went off with it -- all over the place."
Snow continued to play havoc on the Interstate in 2004. On January 6 during a heavy snowfall, not one but three multi-vehicle accidents took place on both sides of Interstate 80 between Exit 158 and Exit 178. The first accident occurred in both the eastbound and westbound lanes between Exit 158 and Exit 161 at 11:15 AM. It involved approximately 30 tractor-trailers, around 20 passenger vehicles, and resulted in six fatalities. There were still four or five vehicles, including a semi, still burning come sunrise on January 7 in the westbound lanes, and prevented investigators from beginning their work. Pennsylvania State Trooper David White said 17 people had been taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center and Lock Haven Hospital, and one who was flown to the trauma center at Altoona Hospital. Ambulances and fire crews were brought in from four counties to attend to the injured and extinguish the fires. White added, "They can't get the fires out -- or they thought they had them out and they're back -- so they're still blocking the eastbound lanes with emergency vehicles, and the smoke is still billowing." The eastbound lanes opened on January 7, and the westbound lanes in the evening of January 8 after PennDOT inspected the highway. Excavation began on Monday, January 12 along the site of the accident. Employees of Eagle Towing and Recovery began removing contaminated soil from the roadside.
Smoke billowing from the pileup as seen the day of the accident. (Associated Press)
The second accident took place just east of the Bellefonte interchange and involved three tractor-trailers, one hauling a mobile home. The driver of an escort car for the wide load, Londa Bennett, said that visibility was poor. She said of conditions, "We were coming over the hill and it was just whiteout, just ice on the road. There were trucks breaking in front of us, and when my driver went to brake, he got hit by another truck from behind."
The third accident took place in the westbound lanes side between Exit 224 and Exit 215. This one involved 12 tractor-trailers and several smaller vehicles.
Since the Interstate is in such a remote area of Pennsylvania, getting medical help to it can be a daunting task. One made critical when someone is having a heart attack. On Februrary 1, 2004, PennDOT announced the implementation of automated external defibrillators at five rest areas on I-80. The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Cardiology donated the five defibrillators, also referred to as "AEDs." "PennDOT is setting an excellent example for public access to defibrillators in the commonwealth," said Dr. Edgar J. Kenton, president of the American Heart Association's local chapter.
The idea of tolling the Shortway came back to the surface in 2004. On March 1, Department of Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler told the state House Appropriations Committee that a series of toll plazas could be built approximately every 30 miles along the Interstate. He also said that the feasibility study had been going on for several months and would take another two to complete. He said, "We are looking at the costs and potential benefits" of toll plazas. "Does the volume of traffic make sense to do this? What is the impact on the traveling public? What does it mean to the trucking industry?" No word on how much tolls would be or where plazas would be placed. PennDOT would need permission from the FHWA to charge tolls since federal money was used to build the Interstate. There is also the question of whether the PTC or PennDOT would be in charge of operations and maintenance. Tolls are one option for raising needed funds to pay for maintenance and possibly widening it to six lanes in sections, especially from Interstate 81 to the Delaware River.
A year later on March 8, 2005, Secretary Biehler told the Senate Appropriations Committee that costs of building toll booths, maintenance facilities, and police stations would exceed $650 million and take years to complete. A PennDOT study stated it would be feasible to charge tolls over the long run but it would take decades to break even and pay off the debt. Biehler said that "it wasn't a wise move to institute tolls at this time." State Senator J. Barry Stout (D) of Washington County said he was "a little shocked to see the final conclusion." As the minority chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, he endorsed the idea of putting ten toll booths, with a $2.50 fare at each, on the Interstate from Ohio to New Jersey.
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 others becoming stuck trying to negotiate the Interstate. PennDOT closed it between Exit 241 and the Interstate 81 interchange on Thursday, February 15 and did not reopen I-80 until 4 PM on February 17. 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.
Eastbound traffic at a stand-still in Luzerne and Columbia Counties.
The on-again/off-again tale of tolling Interstate 80 seems to be back on again in 2007. After a budget battle which saw the state government grind to a halt in July. With passage of Act 44, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission would take over operation of the Interstate and construct ten toll plazas at 30 mile intervals from Ohio to New Jersey. The estimated $946 million/year collected from them as well as increased fare rates on the mainline Turnpike would go to fund highway and bridge repairs across the state. Needless to say, the news of an impending free route becoming tolled did not sit well with those who live and work along the Keystone Shortway. United States Representative Phil English of Erie County along with fellow Republican Representative John Peterson of Venango County attempted to halt the tolling by introducing a bill in Congress that would forbid implementing tolls on a Federally funded Interstate. Peterson defended his actions by saying, "I'm taking on the Legislature because I think they are making a monumental mistake that is going to impact my district." Truckers also balked at the idea of tolls and demonstrated that dislike at a rally held at the capitol on September 24, 2007. However, officials continued to push ahead by announcing that the PTC would spend more than $1 billion on improvements to the Interstate over the next few years which would include repairing bridges, adding truck climbing lanes, upgrading pavement, and extending on-ramps. A 2005 PennDOT study estimated it would cost $2.2 billion to convert I-80 to a toll road including construction of new maintenance buildings and state police stations.
On October 16, 2007, the Department of Transportation and Turnpike Commission entered into a 50-year lease agreement for Interstate 80. As part of Act 44, the two agencies filed a formal application with the Federal Highway Administration three days earlier seeking approval to implement tolls. However, in a letter dated October 17 to Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler and PTC CEO Joseph Brimmeier, chief counsel and acting deputy administrator of the FHWA, James D. Ray stated, "As should be clear, FHWA has not granted Pennsylvania the authority to toll I-80. In fact, now that we have received a formal application, we will conduct a thorough analysis of the application's merits based on the statutory criteria and determine if the selection of I-80 in Pennsylvania for one of three nationwide tolling pilot authorities is appropriate. The approval of any application under this program is a discretionary decision. We will take into account a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, actual or expected competition from other interstate facilities."
On the night of Thursday, November 9, Congress eliminated one hurdle to tolls when at the request of Governor Rendell, Democrats, and Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the amendment to a transportation appropriations bill by Representatives English and Peterson was removed. "The fix is in," Representative English said in a press release. "It's clear that House Democrats, with the speaker's blessing and without the opportunity for a floor vote, have reversed the decision of the House from a few months ago, leaving I-80 open for the Harrisburg bureaucrats to toll." Representative Peterson said, "The state Legislature failed the people of Pennsylvania by allowing Act 44 to pass, and unfortunately, the majority of their Washington representatives, at the behest of Governor Rendell, failed them last night too, by backing the tolling of I-80."
On July 14, 2008, the Turnpike Commission announced its planned $2.5 billion upgrades to the Interstate in the first decade of ownership. "We now have a detailed improvement plan for I-80 backed by an increasing revenue stream," said PTC Chief Executive Officer Joe Brimmeier in a press release. "As the stewards of I-80, this plan ensures we are passing on a first-class transportation system to the next generation." The upgrades include building two new interchanges to connect the Interstate with Interstate 99, replacing or resurfacing about 80 percent of the 311 miles, and replacing 60 original bridges. On August 6, the PTC announced their toll collecting would be much different than that on their other expressways. Instead of traditional toll plazas, Interstate 80 would be the first all electronic toll road in Pennsylvania utilizing E-ZPass at nine gantries across the state each costing $60 million to build. Those without a transponder would get their license plate photographed and be mailed a bill for their toll plus a $1 processing fee, in both cases much like the 407 ETR outside of Toronto, Ontario. Those with transponders would also get a free pass at the first gantry, roughly equating to a 60 mile free ride, then be charged $2.70 at the second and each gantry afterwards. This offer would not be extended to most commercial vehicles, including 18-wheelers that account for up to 30% of traffic on the Interstate, although regular users are eligible for volume discounts.
The state resubmitted the plan to the FHWA on July 22, 2008 and they expected the decision would take two or three months to decided on phase one approval for tolling Interstate 80. It did take two months for a decision; however, to the delight of politicians, residents, farmers, and truckers along the Keystone Shortway, it was to reject the plan. Governor Edward Rendell announced on September 11, that the reason for the Federal Highway Administration rejection was that the law permitted three national pilot projects for tolling currently free Interstates but it does not permit the revenue to be used for other highways.
It seemed that Governor Rendell was ready to throw in the towel when, on May 27, 2009, he said it was pointless for the Turnpike Commission to reapply for permission to toll I-80. Allen Biehler, the Transportation Secretary who had recently become Chairman of the PTC, told a state House committee the day before he would meet with FHWA officials to discuss the application. The Governor said, "I told him I thought it was a waste of time and he shouldn't waste his energy on it." State Representative John Pallone introduced a resolution in the House urging the Commission to resubmit the application. Reviving talks with a new administration in Washington was something the Commonwealth was looking towards, but Jordan Clark, chief of staff to US Representative Glenn Thompson of Centre County, who opposed tolling the Interstate, said the new Barack Obama administration would be less receptive to the proposal. "I would say they have to rethink that," he said, adding that former President George Bush's Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, "would toll your driveway if you let her." However, Barry Schoch, the PTC's project manager for tolling I-80 was more optimistic saying that the Obama administration is "slowly getting in place" and that their focus has been on the stimulus program and reauthorization of the federal surface transportation law.
Interstate 80 Ends
Interstate 80 Pictures
Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge Bearing Replacements/Painting - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge Express E-ZPass Project - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
E-ZPass - Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
The I-80 Project - Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling - Columbia, Montour, and Williamsport/Lycoming Chambers of Commerce
No Toll on I-80 - Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry
No Tolls on I-80 Coalition - Central PA Chamber of Commerce
Repeal Act 44 YouTube Channel - Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry
I-80 Interchange Browser - Tim Reichard
Interstate 80 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 80 - David Steinberg
Interstate 80 Pictures - Steve Alpert
Interstate 80 Pictures - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 80 Pictures - Dan Garnell/Scott Steeves
Interstate 80 Pictures (Clarion County) - Doug Lowmaster
Interstate 80 Pictures (Jefferson County) - Doug Lowmaster
|Western Entrance:||Ohio state line three miles west of West Middlesex|
|Eastern Entrance:||New Jersey state line at the Delaware Water Gap Bridge in Stroudsburg|
|National Highway System:||Entire length|
|Names:||Z. H. Confair Memorial
|Counties:||Mercer, Venango, Butler, Clarion, Jefferson, Clearfield, Centre, Clinton, Union, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia, Luzerne, Carbon, and Monroe|
|Multiplexed Routes:||PA 66: Exit 60 to Exit 64
Truck PA 28: Exit 78 to Exit 81
Alternate US 220: Exit 158 to Exit 161
US 220: Exit 161 to Exit 178
US 209: Exit 302A to Exit 309
|Former Designation:||US 611 (1953 - 1963):
Exit 310 to the New Jersey state line
I-82 (1957 - 1958): Exit 293 to the New Jersey state line
US 611 (1963 - 1965): Exit 299 to Exit 310
Alternate US 220/PA 150 East
Alternate US 220/PA 150 West
|Advisory Radio:||1640 AM|