Motivation for the I-476 Blue Route highway centered around providing a beltway around the Philadelphia region and relieving traffic on local roads and state highways west of the city. Due to a challenge based on environmental impacts that delayed construction of portions of the highway, the Blue Route was constructed in pieces between 1979 and 1992.
Project Type:Beltway Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:106,000 Length (mi):15.70
Economic Distress:0.93 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):1528 Population Growth Rate (%):0.68
Employment Growth Rate (%):0.97 Market Size:1,493,432 Airport Travel Distance:15 Topography:5
Region:New England/Mid-Atlantic State:PA County:Delware
City:Philadelphia Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:Philadelphia
Impact Area:County Transportation System:Highway GIS Lat/Long:39.951785 / -75.340098
Initial Study Date:1984 Post Constr. Study Date:2008
Constr. Start Date:1985 Constr. End Date:1992
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 1991 Planned Cost (YOE $):28,000,000
Actual Cost (YOE $):617,200,000 Actual Cost (curr $):1,055,661,236
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||858.91||516.38||1375.29|
|Output (in $M's)||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Between 1964 and 1992, 21.5 miles of Interstate 476, known as the Blue Route, was completed between Interstate 95 at Chester, PA in the south, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Norristown in the north. Due to a challenge based on environmental impacts that delayed construction of portions of the highway, the Blue Route was constructed in pieces between 1979 and 1992. The northern part of the Blue Route, between I-76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, comprises 5.7 miles, of which 3 miles (I-76 to the Germantown Pike) were completed in 1979, and the remainder in the late 1980s. The southern portion of the Blue Route, which is the focus of this case study, comprises 15.9 miles. Two different sections of the southern segment (4 miles in total) were completed during the 1970s prior to a court order to stop construction. These sections did not connect to anything and stood unused for 20 years. In 1986, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that environmental concerns were sufficiently addressed and construction of the Blue Route could move forward. The remaining 11.9 miles of the southern portion of the Blue Route was completed in 1992.
The economic impacts of completion of the southern portion of the Blue Route are difficult to isolate, but can be defined in two broad categories. One type of impact is new development that can be directly attributed to the Blue Route. There are two specific areas where such development occurred: Conshohocken/West Conshohocken and Chester. The former has seen over $1 billion in investment in 3.4 million square feet of office, hotel, retail and residential development on a 120 acre site directly accessed from the Blue Route. A conservative estimate of the number of jobs created at this site is 10,000. The second site which is just now beginning to undergo development due to access to the Blue Route is the Chester waterfront near the southern end of the Blue Route. To date, a professional soccer stadium, a Harrah's casino and race track, and a 400,000 square foot office building have been built. Of the 2,700 jobs created to date, about 670 can be attributed to the Blue Route. Additional development is planned for this area.
The second type of economic impact results from the expansion of labor markets. The Blue Route opened up substantial labor markets within the greater Philadelphia region, improving access between Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and New Castle Counties. The economic impact of this expanded labor market is best measured in terms of efficiencies (travel times savings) and productivity, which would likely lead to business reinvestment, expansion and employment growth within the study area, and were not quantified for this study.
In total, accounting for both jobs at new developments along the highway and consideration of impacts of labor market access improvement, a conservative estimate is that between 12,000 and 18,000 jobs have been created in the region as a result of completion of the Blue Route. At least $1.2 billion have been invested in private developments.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
Interstate 476 west of Philadelphia, also known as the Blue Route and the Mid-County Expressway, is a 21.5 mile Interstate Highway connecting I-95 in Chester to I-76/the Schuylkill Expressway in Conshohocken, and proceeding north to Norristown and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Blue Route between I-95 in the south and Lehigh in the north includes 12 exits. The southern 15.8 miles of the Blue Route (the focus of this case study) pass through Delaware County. Major east-west crossroads include the Baltimore Pike (US Route 1) and the Westchester Pike (PA Route 3.)
The Blue Route is located 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia (during off-peak travel periods). The Philadelphia International Airport is within five miles of the southern terminus of the Blue Route via I-95. Several SEPTA heavy rail stations are within close proximity to the northern portion of the route.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
The southern portion of the Blue Route runs from the very southern portion of Montgomery County south through the center of Delaware County. The northern end is anchored by Conshohocken and West Conshohocken, two boroughs that were known in the early 20th century as manufacturing communities, home to steel mills and rubber factories. Most of the boroughs' industries had shuttered by the mid-1970's, leaving the two communities devastated. As part of the completion of Interstate 476 in the late 1980's, ramps were built from the Interstate providing access to vacant, developable waterfront land in West Conshohocken, and to land in Conshohocken via a bridge over the Schuylkill River. Developers recognized the redevelopment potential of this land, and have built eighteen office towers, two hotels, and several condominium complexes in the area, creating one of the most desirable office locations in the Philadelphia region. As a result of this investment, the Conshohockens and the surrounding communities have realized substantial residential investment, particularly in higher end homes.
The southern terminus of the Blue Route is Chester, a city that once thrived as a shipbuilding and auto manufacturing center. In the 1960s, these industries began to decline, and between 1950 and 2000, the population of Chester declined from 65,000 to 37,000. In the early 2000s, the state designated the city a Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ), which provides tax breaks to businesses that locate in the city. The KOZ, in conjunction with improved access to I-95 and I-476, have led to the redevelopment of an old Philadelphia Electric Company building into 400,000 square feet of offices, and attraction of a Harrah's casino and race track, and development of a major league soccer stadium.
Between 1980 and 2008, the population of Delaware and Montgomery Counties combined increased by 11% compared to 10% for the rest of the Delaware Valley region. Pennsylvania's population increased by 5%. Employment in the two counties over the same time period increased by a robust 47% compared to 29% for the remainder of the region, and 7% for the state. The Blue Route was a major factor contributing to this growth.
The motivation for the highway was to provide a bypass of the Philadelphia region and relieve traffic on local roads and state highways west of the city. The highway was first proposed in 1929 and added to the planned Interstate network in the 1950's, but due to environmental issues and local opposition, construction did not begin until 1964. The major environmental concerns centered around disruption of the natural environment within the Darby Creek and Crum Creek valleys. The first sections of the highway south of Interstate 76 were completed in the 1970's, but were not used for twenty years because they did not connect to anything. The highway was not completed until 1992. The majority of the highway was held up in court as environmentalists tried to stop its construction. It was not until the mid-1980's that construction started in earnest after the Supreme Court denied hearing a case to overthrow a lower court ruling allowing construction to go forward after a 16-year delay.
The southern portion of the Blue Route was expected to cost $118 million ($1991) when first proposed in 1957. The actual cost upon completion was $617.2 million ($1991.)
4.1 Transportation Impacts
In 2008, AADT on the four-lane section of the Blue Route between I-95 and US Route 1 totaled 101,000. The six-lane section from US route 1 north to I-76 carried 112,000 vehicles per day. The four-lane section is now overcapacity, and there is now some movement to widen the highway to six lanes in that area.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
The completion of the southern half of the Blue Route has had profound impacts on growth and development in the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area extending as far south as Wilmington, Delaware. The Blue Route opened up the western and southwestern portions of the region for development, and allowed for substantial shifts in commuting patterns between Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and New Castle (DE) Counties. Journey to work data from the US Census for 1990 and 2000 show significant increases in work trips between these counties over that time period. In some cases where commuting between counties had been limited prior to the highway construction, commuting increased by over 100 percent. For example, the number of work trips by people living in New Castle County and working in Montgomery County increased by 105% (+948) and the number living in Montgomery and working in New Castle increased by 107% (+621.) For counties where inter-county commuting had already been strong, commute trips have also increased. For example, the number of people commuting from Delaware County to jobs in Bucks County increased by 3,946 (27%), and the number living in Delaware County and commuting to Montgomery County increased by 4,210 (18%.) This expanded labor market undoubtedly resulted in decreased labor costs and increased productivity, the quantification of which would require a more in-depth analysis. Overall, the greater Philadelphia region (including Wilmington) had employment gains of 16.8% between 1990 and 2008, and population gains of 8.8% over the same period. Thus, employment mobility for these counties has increased at a faster rate than overall job growth in the region. The region would not have been able to accommodate the growth it has realized without the access provided by the Blue Route.
In addition to the labor market expansion benefits of the Blue Route, the roadway has also stimulated substantial investment at two different locations served by the highway. After the court decision to allow construction, and in anticipation of completion of the Blue Route, a developer purchased 120 acres of old industrial land in Conshohocken and West Conshohocken along the Schuylkill River, just north of I-76. The developer viewed the completion of the roadway as the critical piece to the viable development of this parcel. In addition to assembling the land for development, he paid for the design of and land for ramps from I-476 to provide direct access to the development sites. (The ramps were built in 1989 and are the subject of Case Study #9 in this database.)
To date, over $1 billion have been invested in 3.4 million square feet of office, retail, hotel and residential development, and more than 10,000 jobs have been created just on this 120-acre area along the Schuylkill. The Conshohockens have realized new tax revenues that have allowed considerable investment in public infrastructure and have made the boroughs preferred locations for both businesses and residents. It is difficult to differentiate the number of jobs attributable to the ramps versus the Blue Route, but discussions with the developer indicate that the vast majority of these jobs would not be created without the investment in the Blue Route, and that the ramps were a very small component of that investment. At least 9,500 of the jobs and $950 million of the investment can be directly attributed to the Blue Route.
This core development area has spurred additional development and redevelopment, including revitalization and reinvestment in the downtown of each borough, infill housing development, and attraction of new businesses to corporate and industrial parks within a three-mile radius of the ramp. The overall average vacancy rate for office space in the mid-1980s topped 20%. In 2008 the Class A office vacancy rates in the Conshohockens was approximately 7%, and rents exceeded $30 per square foot. Property, earned income, business and other municipal taxes have generated enough local revenue to allow the communities to develop sewer and water systems, build new municipal centers, and undertake many additional public infrastructure projects. Between 1980 and 2006, local tax revenues increased from $2 million to $10 million. The median price of a housing unit increased from approximately $35,000 to approximately $250,000. Comparatively, housing prices in Pennsylvania increased from $77,400 in 1980 to $155,000 in 2007.
The Conshohockens have lost single-family housing stock as developers have torn down existing single family units to replace them with duplexes or townhouses. Further, some residents feel that the new development has increased property and home values to the point where long-time residents can no longer afford to live in the communities. Traffic congestion and the continued need for infrastructure improvements to support development also concern residents and officials. However, for the most part, people believe the highway saved the communities from financial disaster.
The second development site is in Chester, PA along the Delaware River. Chester is an old industrial city that has struggled over the past three decades to address job loss due to the closure of factories. This compact city of only 4 square miles has limited development sites with the exception of abandoned mill sites along the river. For years, the city's planners and economic development staff have worked to revitalize the waterfront, but were not successful until an access road was built connecting I-95 with the waterfront. This access road indirectly provides access to I-476 via I-95, and thus opens up the Chester waterfront to all of the western parts of the Philadelphia region. Since completion of the access road in the mid 2000s, three significant developments have occurred on the waterfront, including a Harrah's casino and race track with 1,000 employees, a 400,000 square foot office building with 1,200 employees, and a major league soccer stadium with 500 part-time employees. In addition, $200 million in additional investment is planned, including 200 apartments, 200 condominiums, 400,000 square feet of office space and 40,000 square feet of retail space. Harrah's is planning an expansion that will add between 500 and 600 jobs. Of the jobs created to date along the Chester waterfront, an estimated 670 can be attributed to the access provided by the Blue Route.
A definitive number of jobs created in the region as a result of the Blue Route is difficult to estimate. However, a conservative estimate of both job creation resulting from labor market expansion and efficiencies, and the development that has occurred in the Conshohockens and Chester ranges from 12,000 to 18,000, with more jobs expected over time. At least $1.2 billion in investment has been made in the region due to the access provided by the Blue Route, including both commercial and residential development.
Public investment and incentive programs in both the Conshohockens and Chester have helped support development. In West Conshohocken, public investment, including the designation of a 25-acre redevelopment area as a State Enterprise Zone, and the influx of an estimated $80 million in federal funding, was important for helping to jumpstart the development in the area. In Chester, the designation of the waterfront as a KOZ provided needed tax incentives to attract business.
In Conshohocken, new zoning regulations creating Specially Planned District I and II were adopted in the early 1990's to accommodate the type of mixed-use development the community wanted to attract. Previously, the land had been zoned primarily for industrial development. The borough has adopted additional zoning regulations in the early 2000's to expand these districts. Both boroughs continue to invest in infrastructure to accommodate the ongoing development. West Conshohocken, which has no additional land available for development, is concerned that once construction-related permit fees are no longer being collected, they will not be able to finance additional infrastructure improvements.
Boles, Smyth Associates, Inc.
Borough of Conshohocken Manager’s Office
Borough of Conshohocken Planning Department,
Borough of Conshohocken Tax Collector
Borough of West Conshohocken Borough Council
Borough of West Conshohocken Engineering Department
Borough of West Conshohocken Manager’s Office
City of Wilmington, Delaware Economic Development Department
Community Development Department, Radnor Township
Delaware County Planning Commission
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
Economic Development Department, City of Chester
Montgomery County Board of Assessors
Montgomery County Planning Commission
Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority
Oliver Tyrone Pulver
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Engineering District 6
Springfield Township Code Enforcement
Case study developed by Susan Jones Moses and Associates