Why So Blue?

Why So Blue?

For many of us, when someone says there’s traffic on the Blue Route, we know exactly what they’re referring to. The highway isn’t referred to as the Mid-County Expressway, the Veterans Memorial Highway (its official name), or even 476. It’s just known simply as The Blue Route. But why is this 20-mile stretch of highway called the Blue Route? Well, read on to get the answer to a question you didn’t even ask.

The thought of a road along the current day route dates back to as early as 1929. Urban sprawl from Philadelphia was in its infancy, so nothing really came of it until President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956. This act authorized $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System. The act was basically the jumping off point for the creation of all the highways we see today. In turn, this Act transferred responsibility for the expressway to the then-Pennsylvania Department of Highways.

It was at this time that the Pennsylvania Department of Highways drew up three possible routes to connect Interstate 476 (later known as the Northeast Extension) to I-95 just north of the City of Chester. The three options were a Red (later yellow) Route, a Green Route, and a Blue Route. The Red Route was the eastern-most path and cut through high-population areas along the western section of Springfield Township. The Green Route was the western-most path which would have taken the route West of Media. The Blue Route basically split the difference.

Eventually, after much deliberation, the Red Route was deemed to be too expensive and would affect many densely populated areas. The Green Route, although the cheapest alternative, would provide the least amount of service or relief for traffic. The Blue Route was selected as the most practical alignment. To say the construction of the highway would see it’s fair share of difficulties would be an understatement. The project would encounter many obstacles along the way, including environmental impact concerns, land acquisition delays, conflicts with local municipalities, and a budget crisis that would drag the construction out for years. The Pennsylvania Department of Highways broke ground on the project in 1966, but the highway wouldn’t be fully complete and connected from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-95 until 1991. Compared to that timeline, D.L. Howell gets plans approved at lightning speed.

So, the Blue Route is called the Blue Route simply because it was a color someone chose to outline a path on a conceptual highway plan. A nice, simple answer to a project that was anything but during its development and construction.

Photo by Wikipedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/I-476_Blue_Route_Map.jpg

A Bump in the Road

A Bump in the Road

Everyone hits a bump in the road from time to time, both metaphorically and literally. However, we are not here to wax poetic about life or spirituality. Today it’s all about those things in the middle of the street. That’s right, we’re going to talk about speed bumps and humps.

In case you didn’t already know, speed bumps are designed to slow down automobile traffic. The first speed bump was introduced in the infancy of the automobile age in Chatham, New Jersey. In 1906 workers raised crosswalks five inches to reduce drivers’ speed. Back then, the average automobile’s top speed was a blistering 30 mph. With little to no suspension on those vehicles, this five-inch deviation would cause quite a jolt to the motorists. A few decades later, the modern speed bump was introduced in the 1950s by a Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist named Arthur Holly Compton. This guy was tired of motorists speeding by his office at Washington University and decided to take matters into his own hands and solve the problem. So he designed the speed bump, which he called a “traffic control bump.”

Speed bumps have since become a go-to traffic calming device across the world. The use of various materials (including asphalt, concrete, metal, plastic, and rubber) allows for their use in a wide variety of climates, road conditions, and traffic intensities. There are even dynamic speed bumps that only activate if a vehicle is traveling above a certain speed. However, speed bumps also have their fair share of detractors, which claim that they can slow the response time of emergency vehicles, cause damage to some vehicles, increase traffic noise, or even cause spinal damage.

Now I know that everyone is wondering the difference between a speed bump and a speed hump. Simply put, speed humps utilize a wider traverse distance (12-14ft) and are commonly located on public streets as they are less aggressive at low speeds. On the other hand, speed bumps are most often seen in parking lots and private streets to keep speeds as low as five mph. Both are designed with the same intent but are utilized for different purposes.

So next time you need to slow down your vehicle while approaching a speed bump or hump, give it a little approving nod. Know that even though it only has one job, it is doing it well. And if you have a fear of speed bumps, be strong and slowly get over it.

Tales from the Turnpike

Tales from the Turnpike

To most of us, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is just some ordinary road that costs too much to travel on and screws with your morning commute if there’s an accident. But look a little closer and it reveals an interesting history. Well, interesting for a road.

For a little background on the Pennsylvania Turnpike itself, we have to look back to before the United States entered World War II. Opened on October 1, 1940, between Carlisle and Irwin, the turnpike was the first long-distance controlled-access in the United States. The four-lane highway consisted of seven tunnels over a stretch of 160 miles. The road also had no enforced speed limit when it opened except for the tunnels. Sadly, to the dismay of dads everywhere who love to shave minutes off their travel times, a speed limit of 65 mph was implemented in 1956. Unlike today where there is an individual tunnel used for eastbound and westbound travel when the tunnels were first constructed only one was bored at each location. That means the four-lane highway would have to merge into a two-lane road through each tunnel. Naturally, this would cause bottlenecks at each location when traffic was heavy. Eventually, the turnpike expanded east and west during the ’50s and ’60s to create the route we are all familiar with today.

As traffic levels increased, the bottlenecks at the two-lane tunnels became a huge problem. In the late 1950s, the turnpike commission decided to either build a second bore at each tunnel or a four-lane bypass at each location. Four of the seven tunnels received the second bore while the other three were bypassed entirely. The Laurel Hill Tunnel was the first to be bypassed, and the new section of highway opened in 1964. The Rays Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels were also bypassed by a 13-mile new highway, as was a service plaza. The new highway was opened in 1968, at which time the old alignment was decommissioned.

Now, what exactly did they do with vacated portions of the turnpike and tunnels? Well, nothing really. While the Laurel Hill Tunnel has been used for everything from road material storage to high-speed racecar aerodynamic testing, the Rays Hill and Sideling Hill Tunnels just sit dormant. After 40+ years of no upkeep, the 3,532-foot long Rays Hill Tunnel and 6,800-foot long Sideling tunnel are in surprisingly good shape. They may look a bit rough, but they are still relatively structurally sound. The road has been used by PennDOT to test rumble strips, the military to train soldiers, and has even been featured in several post-apocalyptic movies.

For the weekend urban explorer, the abandoned 13-mile stretch between the Sideling Hill Service Plaza and the Breezewood Interchange can be traversed by bicycle or on foot, and it is all perfectly legal. Plus, it’s the only portion of the turnpike where you don’t have to pay a toll. Sure, it may be marked as “proceed at your own risk”, but that is half the fun.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons. https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/pennsylvania/pa-abandoned-turnpike

Uwchlan Hills Elementary School Nearing Completion

Uwchlan Hills Elementary School Nearing Completion

“Back to School.” For many of us, the phrase was the bane of our existence growing up because it meant that summer was coming to an end. Nowadays, it’s a sore subject for entirely different reasons. Though when the students of Uwchlan Hills Elementary School head back to class, they will have a brand spanking new facility to call home.

D.L. Howell & Associates worked with the Downingtown Area School District and KCBA Architects to secure approvals from Uwchlan Township and the Chester County Conservation District. The project scope involved the demolition of the existing elementary school (sans children) and construction of a new 48,225 square foot elementary school. Access drives, parking areas, and the school bus loading loop were all reconfigured to accommodate the new design. Improvements were also made to Peck Road to create a center turning lane, allowing safer and easier access for vehicles entering and exiting the school. Construction was phased to allow the new building to be erected as the existing school was still in operation. Needless to say, this process was simplified over the past few months as classes were suspended due to extenuating circumstances.

Please enjoy this video of the project taken from Denny’s private helicopter.

Project Graveyard

Project Graveyard

What happens when a civil engineering project is started but never completed? It enters a purgatory, neither alive nor dead. A monument to the mistakes of yore. A relic of what could have been, but never was.

OK, enough with the dramatic introduction. I’m talking about infrastructure that began construction but just was never completed. Maybe due to insufficient project funds, politics, public opposition, or one of many various unforeseen circumstances. Some of these projects you can still find remnants of even to this day if you know where to look.

One such example is the Schuylkill Parkway located in Bridgeport, PA. Originally designed in the 1960s to be a freeway bypass of PA 23 between US422 and US 202. The goal was to alleviate the anticipated congestion in Bridgeport by creating a direct route to 422 rather than traveling south on 202, past the recently opened King of Prussia Mall, and eventually merging onto 422. In 1972, the interchange at PA 23 and US 202 was built, along with a short freeway stub and traffic signals. Construction came to a grinding halt when PennDOT ran out of funds (surprise surprise). This “Road to Nowhere” now sits unused except for the occasional commercial driver’s license tests’ and emergency vehicle training exercises, firmly entombed in the project graveyard.

Coincidentally, this next project was also another proposed freeway bypass of PA23. This one, however, is located in Lancaster County. Designed in the 1960s, plans were made to build a freeway for PA 23 between US 30 (East Walnut Street in Lancaster City) and PA 772. Construction began in the 1970s. Several bridges were built, the preliminary road grading was completed, and an interchange located at PA 772 was well on its way towards completion. But when PennDOT canceled all expressway projects not part of the Interstate System in the 1970s, this project became an infamous casualty. Subsequently, the road alignment was planted over and leased to adjacent farms and the would-be road became known locally as “The Goat Path.” Every decade or so a proposal emerges to rejuvenate this project but as of 2019, nothing has gained any real traction. It remains in the project graveyard.

So if you don’t want your project to become part of the project graveyard, give D.L. Howell a call. Every state interstate system project we have ever designed has been fully completed….which is none.

 

Photo By Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States – Pennsylvania State Route 23, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38145635