Sunday, June 19, 2011


Now I want to talk about the highway system I would like to see in 2050. While the Philadelphia highway network is largely built-out, it is by no means in an optimal state, and in fact, the national trend of ongoing outer-edge investment over core and inner-suburb investment--the trend that held true until 2008 and that Tea Partiers are vainly and idiotically trying to reboot--has guaranteed that projects left unfinished by previous generations remain unfinished--even when they are enormous assets.
While I fundamentally disagree on any need for a true limited-access radial beyond 20 miles of the city center (and most cities throughout the developed world, and where their highway networks are fairly mature, developing, happen to have radials of that distance), and frankly the construction of the 202 bypass between Exton and King of Prussia via Chesterbrook was a major factor in the vampiric job sprawl out there sucking Center City's office market dry*, from a purely transportation planning viewpoint, one which attempts of minimize, if not outright eliminate, biases for or against roads or public transit, there are a few road projects necessary in the long term: increasing capacity on the grossly congested Schuylkill Expressway, via various means; separating the Roosevelt Boulevard's dangerous-to-traverse express lanes from at-grade running (that is, converting the express lanes into a highway), new or improved interchanges at I-95 and I-76, I-95 and I-276, and I-295 and I-276, as well as the N.J. Turnpike and the North-South Freeway, and so on.
The two most important feasible road projects in the region--aside from alleviating the high degree of congestion on the Schuylkill Expressway--are the construction of an expressway link along the Roosevelt Boulevard, to facilitate through-traffic currently using the express lanes, and completion of a partial inner (~10 miles) loop, in large part to facilitate the dismantling of a large section of the Delaware Expressway, which would (hopefully) lead to the obsolescence and removal of the Vine Street Expressway and North-South Freeway north of the Walt Whitman Bridge approach, and perhaps in the longer term, the Schuylkill Expressway between City Line and the Walt Whitman, as well. I-95 would be strategically rerouted via the Walt Whitman Bridge, to the North-South Freeway, to I-295/N.J. Turnpike, where the Turnpike would function as express lanes and the former I-295 local lanes, the Delaware Expressway from Oregon Avenue to Girard Avenue would be dismantled**, and the access spur the rest of the Delaware Expressway would be converted to would be numbered I-695, north to the junction with I-276.
Of course, the elimination of I-295 as a highway designation north of the North-South Freeway creates something of a numbering void for the highways around Trenton. Since, with the completion of the (now-called) I-95/I-276 and I-295/I-276 exits, both of which sorely need to be built, a full loop road will exist around Trenton, this loop road would be called I-995.
Of all these projects, the only one currently being worked on is the I-95/I-276 junction. This project will route I-95 to the N.J. Turnpike via the P.A. Turnpike--but at the same time, it does absolutely nothing to alleviate the issue of I-95's running directly through the center of Philadelphia. As a through road and not an urban spur, until I-95 can be rerouted off that alignment, the otherwise overengineered, overbuilt, and unurban Delaware Expressway will be forced to remain.

In the long term, of course, these projects would be financed via the bonds and tolls system common in the United States prior to the advent of the Interstates. Indeed, a dismantling of the current Interstate funding mechanisms (which ceased to be self-sufficient some time ago) in favor of a partly-public partly-private bonds-tolls system, in which existing highways are leased or sold off to private entities, who would then be in charge of maintenance*** and new starts would be funded by bond issues, paid for by tolls, and then leased/sold off when paid off, is my long-term road policy recommendation.
* While Center City's office market usually shows between 75% and 90% occupancy, in fact the total amount of office space in Center City, over the past twenty years or so, has been subject to a number of downward adjustments, due to condo and apartment conversions of older office buildings (the most spectacular being perhaps the Aria at 15th & Locust and the Residences at Two Liberty Place in an overbuilt section of former Cygna headquarters). By my estimation, there is now only about half as much office space available in Center City as there was in 1990.
** Industrial access to the Richmond Marine Terminal being the main reason why it's not being dismantled further, all the way to the Betsy Ross Bridge.
*** This solution, note, is truly libertarian. For a Tea Partier, proposing this solution for roads would be political suicide. Again--the Tea Party is not libertarian, but rather a form of radical populist conservatism veiled in libertarian-esque language.


  1. Why would through-traffic even use I-95 when I-295 avoids Philadelphia traffic?

    Also, if Philadelphia were like London, or many other European cities, it wouldn't even have freeways in its urban core. There wouldn't be many radials penetrating into the circumferential route formed by the Turnpike and the Mid-County Expressways. There would be no Vine Street Expressway or Roosevelt Expressway, the Delaware Expressway would not exist between the Betsy Ross Bridge and either the airport or the navy yard, and the Schuylkill Expressway would only exist north of Fairmount Park and as a single bridge over the Delaware. Such a Philadelphia would be a lot more livable and less polluted, and probably fewer people and jobs would have fled to the Main Line.

  2. Yeah, agreed...except the Boulevard Périphérique is much closer to the city center of Paris than the Mid-County Expressway Philadelphia.

    A lot of re-signing has to do with psychology. You look at the current setup and think I-95 is the through road and I-295 is a spur, even though both are through routes.

    What I'm suggesting is a non-Interstate-level (semi)-limited-access link around the city center at about 10 miles. With this link, we can make a start of getting rid of those highways in the city center. I want to get rid of the Delaware Expressway immediately, and in the longer term the duplication of Vine Street and the expressway, once the link to the (now-nonexistent) Delaware Expressway is gotten rid of, basically acts as a giant flume from the Schuylkill Expressway to the Ben Franklin Bridge--Camden's North-South Freeway works the same way. So getting rid of these overbuilt highways is a goal, too.

    OTOH the Roosevelt Boulevard is the single most dangerous road in America due in no small part to the fact that all 12 of its lanes (3 local + 3 express per direction) are surface roads in an environment that ranges from the density of Logan and Oxford Circle to the suburbia of Byberry. It has a median that's wider than most roads, and was built for an expressway and a subway to be stuck in that median. The Roosevelt Boulevard's express lanes need to be grade-separated, period.

  3. How exactly might the DOT turn Lansdowne Ave. into a freeway?

  4. ...Or parkway, or whatever. Not the point. The point is, in the long term, a connection's missing there. The Cobbs Creek Expressway was an atrocious proposal, but like it or not, the fact that there's no good direct path between City Line Avenue and the airport also acts to overstuff the Schuylkill Expressway through Center City. Shifting this traffic off the Schuylkill, and then eliminating it, is a long-term objective--although it most certainly won't be realized for a long, long time.

  5. I think it would be an eminent domain and NIMBY nightmare. It seems more feasible to improve Lancaster Ave (already a Fed highway, pretty wide, and surrounding property values are probably lower). The trick would be to re-sign US 13 along Lancaster between 38th and Girard. Then use the existing connection to I-76 at Gray's Ferry.