Category Archives: Transportation

VDOT releases 1949 footage of Shirley Highway in Alexandria

va350_old_tinyThe Virginia Department of Transportation has released another Then & Now video, this time of Henry G. Shirley Highway in 1949, then known as Virginia primary route 350 and now Interstate 395. Last time, the video was of US 29 in Arlington. This time VDOT recreated about a 2-mile drive along Shirley Highway and combined it with the 1949 footage (IN COLOR!) of the same stretch of road, though nothing really is the same:

Shirley Highway predates the interstate highway system, having been built to provide access to the Pentagon and the Fairlington development that came out of World War II as well as a bypass of US 1 a bypass of US 1 between the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers. Technically, Shirley Highway did not go over either river, but provided a direct connection between the two of them.

In the original 1956 interstate highway plan, VA 350 was to be part of I-95. The new number may not have been posted as such until massive rebuilding in the early 1970s that included 2 reversible express lanes. The designation was short-lived though as the proposal to build I-95 between New York Ave (US 50) and the Capital Beltway near College Park was cancelled. Shirley Highway was re-designated I-395 in 1977.

The contrast between then and now is striking of course. The video begins near Edsall Road which today is just south of the terminus of the “EZ Pass Express” toll lanes that supplanted the 1971 express lanes. The two lanes in each direction with no shoulders of 1949 is unrecognizable to the 11 lanes over three separated roadways of now. The hills of the Alexandria area are quite visible too — it looks like a rural area then. Because it was.

Concrete arch bridges (similar to the Washington Blvd spans over Columbia Pike that are being replaced now) and sporadic white guide signs have been replaced by steel girders and frequent big green signs. A conspicuous NO THRU TRUCKS signal also makes an appearance.

Rolling along in 1949 Shirley Highway was through untouched country side past the current Landmark Mall (opened as a shopping center in 1956) and the new Mark Center. Van Dorn Street, which parallels Shirley Highway now wasn’t even there yet, nor was it’s residential development. That would come within a decade. The large Mark Center building would only open in the last few years.

This is a fun exercise for me, seeing what the area close to my current home looked like long before I was born. A late former neighbor grew up in Fairlington and told me about how they would ride their bicycles along the grading for an Shirley Highway when it was under construction; I wish I could show him this video.

There is a lot more to learn about Shirley Highway and see maps and photographs and I recommend the following sites:

Adam Froehlig and Mike Roberson’s Virginia Highways Project – VA 350

Scott Kozel’s Roads to the Future – Henry G. Shirley Memorial Highway

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NJ Turnpike photo by Dan Murphy used with permission

NJ Turnpike completes significant widening between interchanges 6 and 9

Over the last few weeks, a major expansion of the New Jersey Turnpike was completed after 5 years of construction. Between interchanges 6 (Pennsylvania Turnpike) and 8A (Jamesburg) two new carriageways were added with 3 lanes each direction. These are not express lanes like many dual carriage way superhighways; the Turnpike provides a CARS ONLY portion and CAR-TRUCK-BUS portion which can be shifted. All told, those lanes are now in service between interchanges 6 and 15W, about 50 miles. Another lane was also added to the external carriage ways between interchanges 8A and 9, bringing the total to at least six lanes in each direction with full access to all interchanges and service areas. The project is also the final one to use the NJ Turnpike style signage, including the neon REDUCE SPEED signs, as that has been replaced by standard MUTCD signage. Here’s the official Turnpike commission press release (PDF – really)

MORE COVERAGE

After NJ Turnpike widened, stepped up police patrols – News – NorthJersey.com.

Ceremony marks completion of project to widen NJ Turnpike – News – NorthJersey.com.

Road to the future? New, widened N.J. Turnpike has fans and critics – News – NorthJersey.com.

$2.5B NJ Turnpike widening complete, lanes to open Friday | NJ.com.

Expanded lanes open on New Jersey Turnpike – Philly.com.

Officials hail widened New Jersey Turnpike stretch – Philly.com.

STRUCTURE magazine | Overcoming Challenges.

Turnpike widening from exit 6 to 9 nearly complete.

Also, the project is reported to have come in $200 million under budget, so the leftover money will be directed to the expansion of the Garden State Parkway, controlled by the Turnpike, between mileposts 36 and 63.

Interstate 95, the eastern most number for the Pennsylvania TurnpikeLeft unsaid was a big reason for this expansion to interchange 6 — the re-routing of Interstate 95 via the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the New Jersey Turnpike. That project, mandated over 30 years ago when the Somerset Freeway was cancelled, is only just getting started. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission continues to drag the project out in part becaue they never wanted it – something the lead engineer said as much to me in an email in the mid-1990s. Why they just didn’t adapt a toll structure that made sense over these last 30 years is nonsensical. Additional funding challenges through Act 44 have impaired the Commission’s ability to fund projects, as have dubious expansion projects in Western Pennsylvania (were the population has lost 500,000 people in 50 years) while that has ignored a significant bottleneck in Pittsburgh.

DSC_0264
Photo by I.C. Ligget – The control cities are weak, should be Del Mem Br/Baltimore/Washington

The NJ Turnpike on the other hand, got this expansion done within a decade, under budget and had even planned ahead when building overpasses 15 years ago. In short, get your act together Pennsylvania and adopt some Jersey-style efficiency.

Photo by Dan Murphy, used with permission

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An up close look at the Delaware Memorial Bridge

US Route 40Interstate 295 - DelawareInterstate 295 - New JerseyPreserving a bridge, one paint coat at a timeThe News Journal
My favorite bridge(s), the Delaware Memorial Bridge which carries Interstate 295 and US 40 between Delaware and New Jersey is being repainted. A photographer went along for the story and took some video in addition to photographs:

The video features the external elevators that I dislike for aesthetic reasons:

The pic referred to in the tweet is one my wife took in 2013 on our way back from a visit to The Jersey Shore.

Delaware Memorial Bridge

All those trips down the Shore are one of the reasons I love those bridge(s), though the novelty of twin suspension bridges is a big part of it too. No, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge doesn’t count — those are fraternal twins. Technically, the Delaware Memorial Bridges are too, as the Delaware-bound span is wider, but that is not distinguishable to the eye. The towers are 440 feet tall.

[flickr : Photos tagged with delmembr/slideshow]

Learn more at Steve Anderson’s phillyroads.com

Highway markers by Shields Up!

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VDOT releases 1949 footage of US 29 in Arlington

us29_va_old_tinyThe Virginia Department of Transportation found footage of US 29 (Lee Highway) from Key Bridge to Cherrydale filmed in 1949. VDOT recreated the same drive and combined that and the 1949 footage into one video and posted it on youtube:

us211_va_old_tinyThe 1949 footage isn’t perfect, but still gives an idea of post-WWII Arlington County. Streetcars are visible and along with the billboards that faced Georgetown at the Virginia end of Key Bridge. It’s also noteworthy that there are two US 29 signs visible, but not US 211 which was officially multiplexed with US 29 until 1980 according to the Virginia Highways Project when it was officially truncated at Warrenton. I had previously heard 1984, but I suspect that the completion of Interstate 66 outside the Beltway hastened the demise of US 211 since it was no longer than only continuous route number from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C. This video suggests that the predecessor agency of VDOT and/or Arlington County was disinterested in the US 211 designation near Washington in that designation long before it was technically removed.

In the last frame, beyond the intersection of Kirkwood Road, is a trestle for the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. That right-of-way would later be used for Interstate 66, completed in 1982 and the Custis Trail, BeltwayLand’s most challenging bicycle path. Starting that year, the intersection with Kirkwood Road was also the northern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway according to Steve Anderson’s dcroads.net. Since 1959, that part of the GW Parkway has been a spur called Spout Run Parkway.

Highway markers from Shields Up!

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The newest Goodyear blimp is longer, faster and actually a zeppelin

My friend Chris tipped me off on this Wired article and video about the next generation of Goodyear’s airship fleet:

…Wingfoot One, a new airship that Goodyear designed along with storied airship builder Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (yes, the same zeppelin of hydrogen-filled Hindenburg fame). Zeppelin’s hopes for a high-tech, dirigible-driven future largely went up in smoke with the Hindenburg. But today’s helium-filled design could propel us into a new age of flight, minus the airborne conflagrations.

How Goodyear Revamped Its Zeppelin for a New Age of Flight


So, they’ll look different and fly faster.

Of course, there is a bit of a helium problem (NBC) right now. Perhaps using this scarce and expensive resource for birthday parties wasn’t the best idea. Oops.

On a lighter note, blimp pilots are rarer than astronauts:

Blimp pilots have a great vantage point, but lead solitary livesThe Post

Blimp pilots are kind of lonely, but they get a great view. I’m sure my mother, who worked for MetLife, appreciates that their blimp was featured too.

So, when does Tom Wolfe write about these brave airship pilots? He could call it The Light Stuff

I’ve mentioned it before, but growing up in Vienna, we lived below the flight path of blimps headed to Dulles Airport. Mostly, it was the Goodyear blimp, Enterprise, but once or twice it was the McBlimp. My mom called Dulles to ask about it and a presskit came in the mail a few days later. We should have kept that one. Here’s how west Texas reacted to McBlimp back in 1985:

Also, my grandparents also lived outside of Lakehurst, N.J. a major hub of airships, even after the Hindenberg.

So, I’m a blimp guy or airship enthusiast I guess. Naturally, the stories linked above was a must-read and even blog about…for posterity.

Now can we please let commercial blimps fly around BeltwayLand again? Maybe in October…

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REDUCE SPEED: These neon signs used to be all over the New Jersey Turnpike. Photo by Ian Ligget.

REDUCE SPEED: Vintage neon NJ Turnpike sign for sale on ebay

Can somebody please buy, ship and store this outstanding New Jersey Turnpike neon sign for me? It’s only $2,000! You can drop it off with me when I get a house. A really big one, apparently.

In 2013, I mentioned the coming end of NJ Turnpike exceptionalism when it comes to signs. The Turnpike Authority has begun modernizing (note: I did not say “upgrade”) highway signs to comply with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Though not necessarily directly related, the neon “REDUCE SPEED” signs that have been on the Turnpike since time immemorial are being removed in favor of modern LED signs.

I have been wondering what will happen to all of these classic neon signs. I hope that some are saved for museums. Maybe I’ll tweet at them to buy this one, though on second thought the Turnpike ought to donate one. There probably ought to be one or two at a service plaza on the Turnpike itself.

The sign itself probably weighs at least a ton and it has to be picked up. This isn’t a really good time for me to do that logistically or financially. So, a little help?

Failing the acquisition of this neon sign, I’d be okay with a Turnpike trailblazer. A Garden State Parkway, Capital Beltway and even a Pennsylvania Turnpike sign while you are at it.

Photos © Ian Ligget

h/t Steve Anderson

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I-95: Chesapeake House reopened

Chesapeake House the second service area, err travel plaza on Interstate 95 (John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) north, reopened last Tuesday. Both the renovation and reopening seems to be lacking in the fanfare of Maryland House, but it’s good news for I-95 travelers.

In my experience Chesapeake House, originally opened in 1972, is less crowded than Maryland House, so I have preferred stopping there over the years. The last several years have seen three completely rebuilt service areas along a 40 mile stretch of I-95 between Baltimore and Wilmington. The Delaware Service Plaza was rebuilt in 2008.

Maryland Transportation Authority sealService areas are lasting vestige of the pre-interstate toll roads area. In order to promote commerce along interstate corridors, service areas are banned and have been since the early 1960s. Some interstates were assigned to existing turnpikes like parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and the service areas were grandfathered in.

Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed during the reconstruction of these service areas — flyover ramps from the right side. It would have been eight overall (2 off, 2 on in each direction) but for whatever reason, the Maryland Transportation Authority did not choose to go n that direction. Safety and traffic flow are better when exits and entrances are from the right side.

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dc-traffic-light

An explanation of the D.C. traffic signal system

The Post has a good video explaining the Washington, D.C. traffic signal system. It can be adjusted in real time as needed, for events like Washington Nationals games.

By the way, the photo above is the most popular on my flickr stream with over 11,000 views. Here’s an old-school “art deco” style Crouse-Hinds signal:

These were ubiquitous for decades, but the one pictured was removed around 2005, along with all the other survivors.

UPDATED

I found out after the fact that this was posted on the 100th anniversary of the first traffic signal.

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