What to Know
- From Friday afternoon until early Monday morning, the eastbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia will be closed.
- Crews will be practicing social-distancing measures while milling and repaving the roadway, PennDOT said.
- The eastbound lanes are expected to be completed soon. Work will then begin on the westbound lanes.
As people are urged to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic, construction crews have been working to rebuild an aged section of Schuylkill Expressway viaduct in Philadelphia, blocking the normally busy highway for entire weekends.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will be closing the eastbound lanes of Interstate 76 from 30th Street to University Avenue to mill and repave the roadway above the viaduct, which has been under repair since last year.
The weekendlong closure is being planned as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep people home, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be heading out to a park or other open space. Essential workers also should be aware of the closure that will impact their commute.
Here are answers to some questions about the closure:
When Will the Schuylkill Expressway Be Closed?
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed the stretch of I-76 eastbound at noon Friday (May 15). Crews are working around the clock until reopening the expressway by 5 a.m. Monday (May 18). The weekend work only affects eastbound drivers.
What Part of I-76 Will Be Detoured This Weekend?
The stretch of roadway from the 30th Street to University Avenue exits.
The same stretch of highway has been closed recent weekends to "take advantage of lower traffic volumes and no activities at the stadium complexes during the stay-at-home order," PennDOT spokesman Brad Rudolph said.
PennDOT has no plans to close I-76 during the normally busy Memorial Day weekend.
The Walnut Street and South Street ramps to eastbound I-76 will also be closed.
What Work Is Being Done?
This weekend crews will be milling and paving the highway this weekend. Crews will be taking COVID-19 protections measures including "social distancing, use of face coverings, personal and job-site cleaning protocols, management of entries to the job site, special signing and relevant training," PennDOT said.
You might recall the Friday to Monday morning closures that forced drivers onto other highways or surface streets throughout last summer and fall. The span of highway, first laid down in 1960, through the heart of Philadelphia was closed a total of seven weekends in 2019, allowing for about 250 hours of work, Rudolph said.
Crews used that time to tear up the deteriorating viaduct along the Schuylkill River and redeck the surface using a special quick-drying synthetic cement. A total of 289 spans needed to be replaced, but crews replaced less than half (138) due to surprises that turned up under the surface.
Crews are now approaching completing the eastbound lanes, Rudolph said. They will then start on the westbound stretch.
About 130,00 vehicles speed (or inch along due to the heavy traffic) over the stretch of I-76 during normal days, PennDOT said. But that level has traffic has gone down during the coronavirus shutdowns.
How Do I Get Around the Weekend Schuylkill Expressway Closures?
The detours utilize surface roads through University City or other interstates.
Through drivers coming into Philly from the northwestern suburbs can get off I-76 eastbound at the Vine Street Expressway (interstate 676). You can then continue eastbound on I-676 to Interstate 95 south. You can then pick back up I-76 near the Walt Whitman Bridge or continue toward the stadium complex and Philadelphia International Airport.
For people looking to get back on I-76 at University, you can exit at Spring Garden Street, go right on Spring Garden, left onto 32nd Street and right onto Powelton Avenue. You then will go left on 38th Street and straight on University Avenue to 34th Street to access the ramp to eastbound I-76.
Detour signs and digital boards will be posted, PennDOT said.
How Do I Avoid the I-76 Closure Entirely?
The Kelly Drive on the other side of the Schuylkill River can be used to get into Center City.
Will the Highway Be Completely Open During the Week?
The short answer is no.
At 11 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night through 5 a.m. the following morning, I-76 westbound will be closed at 30th Street so that crews can rehab the overhead viaduct, PennDOT said. The highway will be reduced to a single lane each night starting at 9.
From noon to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, westbound I-76 will be reduced to a single lane between University Avenue and 30th Street for viaduct paving, PennDOT said.
There are also plans for lane restrictions on the Montgomery County section of the highway. Check your traffic app before you head out.
Will I-76 Be Closed for Weekends Again This Year?
Yes, Rudolph said he expects a couple of more weekends will be needed to work on the eastbound lanes along the Schuylkill River.
Once the eastbound lanes are closed, crews will begin work on the westbound lanes. The plan is to complete the work by the end of the year.
The construction is part of the $39.8 million contract to redo the viaducts.
What Could Delay the Viaduct Repair Project?