After 60 years, I-95 is complete

Date: Thursday, August 23rd, 2018
Source: Bloomberg

Across the U.S., public infrastructure is crumbling thanks to legislative gridlock and chronic underfunding. Roads are overcrowded, bridges are well past their expiration date and transit systems regularly face unprecedented delays. But there will be one thing to celebrate as you seethe in beach traffic this weekend—a small, strange gap in I-95 is being filled.

Come September, one of the most audacious public infrastructure projects in U.S. history will be completed after more than six decades of work. Interstate 95 was the crown jewel of the American highway system championed by President Dwight Eisenhower, and yet the plan for an artery stretching the length of the East Coast almost didn’t happen—thanks to local lawmakers and land-owners in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Near the Pennsylvania border, drivers have long been forced off the interstate and onto other roadways, only to join back eight miles away. Transportation officials and civil engineers spent more than two decades and $425 million to eliminate this detour off of I-95, the most-traveled highway in America, spanning 1,900 miles from Miami to Maine.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which oversees the I-95 Interchange Project, said the new infrastructure—which includes the creation of flyover ramps, toll plaza facilities, environmental mitigation sites, intersections, six new overhead bridges, widened highways and new connections to the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes—will be open to the public by Sept. 24.

“The benefit of completing this ‘missing link’ is mobility,” said Carl DeFebo, the director of public relations at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The new infrastructure will reduce traffic time for north- and south-bound travelers and ease congestion on local roads which used to connect I-95 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I-95 will be the last infrastructure project financed by Eisenhower’s 1956 National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. The legislation authorized $25 billion—roughly $230 billion in 2018 dollars—for the construction of 40,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System. At the time, the act marked the largest public works project in American history.

Today, I-95 is host to more than one-fifth of the nation’s road miles and serves 110 million people in the most densely populated region in the country. The road is the main thoroughfare for national economic activity, facilitating 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the I-95 Corridor Coalition.

So why did it take six decades to complete the last—and most important—highway in the country? Local opposition to development that would follow the roadway through rural New Jersey. “Ultimately it is a state decision to advance an interstate project,” said Brandye Hendrickson, the deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

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