I-95: 50 years ago, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway and Delaware Turnpike opened

 

On this day in 1963, a significant section of Interstate 95 was opened at the Maryland-Delaware border amid pageantry and 10,000 people that included President John F. Kennedy in one of his last public appearances. The Maryland portion, the Northeast Expressway, was 42 miles long from Baltimore County to the Mason-Dixon Line. Across the border, the Delaware Turnpike traveled another 11 miles. Both states now honor the fallen president; the Northeast Expressway name was replaced in 1964 while Delaware merely added an additional name.

Here is report from the Delaware Department of Transportation which includes part of President Kennedy’s remarks

The transcript of the president’s speech is available from The News Journal or from DelDOT as a PDF.

Though only 53 miles were opened that day, it was a pivotal stretch, filling in the gap between the New Jersey Turnpike and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway. All of those three roads, combined with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, formed a limited access connection between Washington, D.C. and New York City for the first time — it was already possible to travel from Boston to New York without a single traffic light. The JFK/Del. Tpk. was the last major piece of what Steve Anderson of dcroads.net calls the “eastern turnpike complex”

The first piece of the “complex” was completed in 1940 with the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, followed in 1947 with the opening of the Maine Turnpike. This would be followed with the completion of controlled-access toll expressways in New Hampshire by 1950; Ohio by 1955; in New York and Indiana by 1956; in Massachusetts by 1957; in Connecticut and Illinois by 1958; and in Delaware and Maryland by 1963. By that year, motorists could travel from Maine south to Virginia, or west to Illinois, without stopping at a traffic light. Much of the “eastern turnpike complex” was ultimately absorbed into the Interstate highway system.

The road was tolled in order to get it built quicker:

…funding for other Interstate highways such as the Baltimore (I-695) and Capital (I-495) beltways, as well as urban freeways in those two metropolitan areas, took precedence over the Northeast Expressway. The state highway development program scheduled construction of the Northeast Expressway between 1966 and 1970, long after the aforementioned projects were to be scheduled for completion.

ON THE FAST TRACK TO CONSTRUCTION: In order to expedite construction of I-95, the Maryland State Roads Commission decided to finance construction and maintenance of the expressway with bonds backed by toll revenue. The state, which floated a $73 million bond issue to finance construction of the Northeast Expressway, did not violate Federal highway law because state funds were used to finance construction. However, the highway was to be built to Interstate standards.

The rest of I-95 in Delaware would not be completed until 1968 and the section through Wilmington was controversial. The connector between the Delaware Turnpike and the New Jersey Turnpike is I-295. In Maryland, I-95 would not be completed through Baltimore until 1985 with the opening of the Ft. McHenry Tunnel, though the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (now I-895) provided limited access through Baltimore. I-95 would not be completed as intended in Maryland with the portion inside the Capital Beltway cancelled, causing the number to be reassigned to the eastern portion of the Capital Beltway.

There is still a gap in New Jersey for I-95, but that is being addressed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike and New Jersey Turnpike. Finally.

I am not sure if Maryland is doing anything to acknowledge the 50th Anniversary, but Delaware has an toll booth on display in the Delaware Service Area near Newark.

I have taken countless trips up the JFK/Del. Tpk. over the years, mostly to New Jersey to see family, friends or visit the Shore. While I don’t do that as often anymore, I still know the road and landmarks quite well and have a fondness for it, if not the Delaware Turnpike toll. It can be pretty in the fall and northeast of the Susquehanna River is the most rural portion of I-95 between Northern Virginia and New Hampshire. In Delaware, I enjoy the anticipation of trying to be the first to see the Delaware Memorial Bridge as well as the significance of the split that sends I-95 to Philadelphia and I-295 to New Jersey, it’s Turnpike, it’s Shore and New York.

ADDITIONAL READING

Delaware Turnpike – phillyroads.com
John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway – dcroads.net

After 50 years, I-95 still East Coast’s common thread and economic backbone | GalleryThe Sun

I-95 in Delaware linked East Coast, divided city of Wilmington | Over five decades, as tolls rise civility falls | TIMELINE: I-95 HISTORYThe News Journal

PRESS RELEASE: Original Delaware Turnpike Celebrates 50th Anniversary on November 14, 2013

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