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Traffic Tie Up on Opening Day of the Schuylkill Expressway

After a long period of construction (1949 to ’59) on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) a section of it was opened to traffic in the Philadelphia, PA area on September 2, 1954. This image was taken from above City Avenue and the new Expressway in Philly at the entrance and exit ramps visible in the lower right-hand side of the expandable image below.

Four to five City police officers and a supervisor are on location at the scene directing traffic in an effort to keep it moving on opening day. The new thoroughfare was soon nicknamed the “Surekill Expressway” by local citizens due to an above average number of accidents and deaths. Being constructed before the Interstate Highway system of standards went into effect in the mid-fifties resulted in a number of unsafe sections along the busy roadway.

Learn more about the new highway in an earlier post: Noontime Traffic Jam on the Schuylkill Expressway. Share with us what you find of interest in the photograph courtesy of the Temple University Libraries.

19 responses to “Traffic Tie Up on Opening Day of the Schuylkill Expressway

  1. I note that there are no merging lanes in the entrance/exit ramps. So you were expected to essentially pull out of a driveway into four-lane highway traffic.

    Yeah, “Surekill Expressway” sounds about right.

  2. In the center of the photograph, driving toward the camera, is a 1951 KAISER Special Coupé, with a visor.

    Just beyond this KAISER, near the curb, is a four-door 1946 BUICK with a visor, either a Roadmaster or Super.

  3. An Expressway with no shoulders and a sidewalk running alongside it. Is that a ‘stop’ sign painted on the oncoming lanes? No wonder it was so dangerous.

  4. I was on it for the 1st (and hopefully last ) time in my life going to the Linc for a Temple Football home game (nephews on the team). 8-9 AM – bumper to bumper traffic. 7-8 PM bumper to bumper traffic. On a Saturday. Are you people insane? I thought Boston and NYC were bad.

    The sad thing is, there’s really no place to widen it. Rail Road tracks, river and ledges. There’s no way the state of feds would ever spend that kind of money for eminent domain takings.

  5. For those who know, does this road still exist in this form? And, where were all these cars before the new road opened? It appears everyone that could, got off their regular routes and decided to use the new road for their trip to where ever.

  6. David,

    Just re-read your narrative and am I correct the “entrance/exit” to the Schuylkill Expressway is in the lower right corner of the picture ? The four-lane road, with the heavy traffic, looks “old” with repaired cracks in the pavement, etc.


  7. Light colored car (’53 Chevy?) in right lane looks like its got a broken rear spring on the passenger side. Bumper is almost dragging.

    • Hi Jim, or pretty heavily loaded down. The officer is not interested. The portly looking man on the curb, with hands on hips, must be some bigshot planning dude, wondering why this all looked so good on paper. And the other cop looking at him, “who designed this”?

  8. “Surekill Expressway” is correct. I am NOT a timid driver; very experienced. The last time I gambled my life on this, the on ramp went into the LEFT lane. No merge lane. One car in front of me, tractor trailer behind me. I looked at the traffic, chose a “slot”, and kept my speed along with the car in front of me. At the end of the ramp, the car in front of me STOPPED!!! Tractor trailer on my bumper. Did not know that I could pray to God that hard and that fast! Found myself OK and merged into the traffic. Only by divine intervention! I remember nothing of how it happened. That was about 10 years ago. Have never and will never drive on that atrocity of a highway again!

  9. It’s been awhile since I drove in Philly, but that road looks more like a feeder road or crossover to the Schuylkill. You mention city ave In your narrative. I’m thinking maybe it’s Cityline Ave that runs between North Philly and Bala Cynwyd.first I thought maybe Route 30, but that’s Center City and the Schyulkill is west side near the airport. Last time I used it, I drove from Norristown to the Amtrak station at 30th St. Not a fun road. No place to go if something goes wrong.

  10. The ’46-’48 Desoto two door sedan was a rarely seen model as the club coupes were more popular. In addition to the ’51 Kaiser coupe, there is a Hudson Pacemaker sedan headed away in the inside lane at the top of the hill.
    Expressway design was in its infancy then, the understand of traffic dynamics with increasing speeds was a steep learning curve for both the civil engineers as well as motorists.

  11. After the opening festivities died down, there were times during the day that the road was almost empty. I remember going a little over 100 on the clock on my Vincent Shadow. This was on a section where the river was on one side, and the PRR on the other. Knew that there wasn’t any places there for the cops to hide—and believe me, that section was nowhere as rough as the part in the photo.
    Nuts? Yep! But weren’t we all when we were young?

  12. Amazing how the left over construction materials have been left in piles on the side of the road – not the best thing to crash into!

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