Schuylkill Expressway improvements aim to prevent accidents and speed travel…eventually

The Schuylkill Expressway near Girard Avenue. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Schuylkill Expressway near Girard Avenue. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

How do you make the Schuykill Expressway less of a parking lot?  

PennDOT thinks technology and active traffic management eventually will help ease congestion. 

PennDOT Assistant District Executive Lou Belmonte says when you have no ability to build a bigger Schuylkill Expressway, you work with what you have, including opening the shoulder lanes to ease congestion.

“We do some minor widening to make the shoulders more consistent than they are now and at peak times use the shoulders for travel,” he said.

In April, PennDOT said it is hatching similar plans to use the shoulders on the Blue Route (I-476) to fight congrestion.  Other major roadways using the technique include the New Jersey Turnpike.  During the extended reconstruction on I-95 through Philadelphia, the shoulder is widely used to avoid losing too many lanes during road work.

Belmonte says in addition to the widening, they will use better message signs to divert traffic and alert drivers.

“We have a truly early action project that will be put on the street the end of next year that focuses on the crash variable speed limits and cue warning detection,” he said.

He says that would prevent secondary accidents by warning drivers stopped traffic is around the next curve. 

As part of a comprehensive plan, PennDOT also plans to use the message signs to divert traffic to SEPTA.  Instead of just flashing how many minutes it will take to drive to Center City, the sign will also display how long taking the nearest SEPTA regional rail train would take for the same trip.  The message signs will also advertise when there are nearby park-and-ride lots.

While the new signs could arrive soonish, the rest of the $125 million project is expected to take several years.

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