Interstate 79 extends about 340 miles from Charleston, WV north to Erie, PA. It is the leading north-south route for Western Pennsylvania and a Godsend to "West, by God, Virginia". I-79 passes through the states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania paralleling the US 19 corridor from Exit 57 near Sutton, WV to the northern terminus in Erie, PA. I-79 in Pennsylvania is called the Raymond P. Shafer Highway. It is named for Jennings Randolph in West Virginia.

There is always construction occuring on possibly any interstate in the country. The concept of the interstate system was inspired by Germany's Autobahn, but the Autobahn concrete roadway is 27" thick. Their roads last two or three times longer than ours before they need to be replaced or repaired. Our interstate roadways are only 11" thick. Therefore, most of them need to be repaired about every ten years. Those big orange diamond shaped signs warning of road construction ahead will probably always be a part of the interstate landscape for years. I would like to see more "End Construction" signs.

The term "West, by God, Virginia" is a thing West Virginians say to distinguish themselves from Virginians after seceding from Virginia at the start of the Civil War

Major Interchanges, Spurs & more

Many highways, interchanges, bridges and by-passes have been named after famous or important people living or dead. Some of them are included along I-79 and it's components.

  • I-279 spur into Pittsburgh. This route passes through Pittsburgh and reconnects a few miles north of the city. I-279 is called the Raymond E. Wilt Memorial Highway
  • I-579 is a spur off of I-279 in downtown Pittsburgh
  • I-79 bridge over the Ohio River - Pittsburgh Naval and Shipbuilders Memorial Bridge is the longest bridge in western Pennsylvania
  • I-80 in Pardoe, PA - O.D.Anderson Interchange
  • I-90 in Erie, PA - Charles D. Buzzanco Interchange
  • PA 5 in Erie, PA - Harold D. Resnick Interchange
  • I-179 was the original designation of the interstate from I-90 to the northern terminus in Erie. The three mile stretch was renamed I-79 since it was a continuous route.

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The Jennings Randolph Highway

Interstate 79 in West Virginia is named after Jennings Randolph, considered by many to be the father of the nation's interstate highway system. Jennings Randolph was named after William Jennings Bryan. In 1936 as a newly elected member of Congress and part of Roosevelt's New Deal administration, Randolph spoke about the need for creating a modern highway system. The opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike provided the perfect example of what Randolph implied. Eisenhower and other military leaders saw first hand the strategic importance of Germany's Autobahn following WW II.

While most of the nation prospered during the post-war boom of the 1950s and 60s, the Appalachian Region was moving much slower due partially to the region's lack of sufficient transportation. Of the thirteen states which fall within the poverty pocketed region of Appalachia, West Virginia is the only one located entirely within it. The regions's rugged mountainous terrain increases the cost of building roads. Many of the roads follow the the lay of the land, winding stream valleys and steep hills. In the 1960s as US Senator for West Virginia, Randolph was instrumental in initiating significant infrastructure projects in his state including I-79, which is an important north-south corridor linking West Virginia to Pittsburgh and other parts north. The addition of I-79 has proved beneficial to West Virginia's economy since it was completed in the 1970s.

As interstate highways go, West Virginia I-79 is in good condition with relatively light traffic. The region is slowly beginning to escape the cycle of poverty with the developement of a modern infrastructure including I-79 and other interstates in the Appalachian corridor highway system. The FBI opened a facility in Clarksburg which employs 2800 people. NASA employs 125 people to test the agency's software in Fairmont. Many software companies have opened up in the Morgantown and Fairmont area along Interstate 79.

Last summer we went through Virginia and West Virginia on our way home to northwest Pennsylvania from the Outer Banks. It took us three hours to go 75 miles on US 250 through the Shenanoah Mountains. It was a beautiful drive but we were getting tired. I-79 was a welcome sight. The speed limit was 70 MPH when we got on the interstate and we covered over 165 miles in three hours, including a stop for fuel.

    West Virginia Exits:

The Governor Raymond P. Shafer Highway

I-79 in western Pennsylvania runs from the West Virginia border in the south to West Eighth Street in Erie, about a mile or so from the shore of Lake Erie. The route of I-79 was destined to be another extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the early 1950s. The proposed section from Pittsburgh to Erie was to be the Northwestern Extension. The Southwestern Extension would run from from Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border. On June 30, 1954 the Interstate Highway Act was signed into law by its namesake President Eisenhower. There was no reason for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to continue it's venture when federal funds were earmarked to pave the way.

Constructon began on Pennsylvania I-79 in 1961 on the section between Laboratory and Washington, PA in southwestern Pennsylvania. The first section to open was a short stretch in Laboratory a year later. It is here that I-79 shares a few miles of the route with Interstate 70. This is one of the most confusing sections of the interstate to this day. There is a very sharp bend in the road where I-79 north merges with I-70 west. This has been the scene of many accidents, most of them involving tractor-trailers that cannot slow down as quick. After a five year old girl was killed there 20 years ago, a tall jersey barrier, rumble strips, more warning signs were installed and a 25 MPH speed limit was imposed. The bend is scheduled to be rebuilt starting in 2006.

The next section to open was the balance of the segment to Washington, PA. A year later a section opened in Zelienople about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. Throughout the 1960s many sections were opened as they were completed. By 1970 I-79 was nearly complete. It was still a few miles short of the West Virginia border and a couple of sections in the middle weren't open yet. Traffic could use adjacent US 19 where the interstate was not completed.

On October 30, 1970 the opening of the Meadville exit and the dedication of the Raymond P. Shafer Highway took place. Raymond P. Shafer was the Governor of Pennsylvania from 1967-1971. By 1976, 187 miles of the I-79 from the West Virginia border to 12th Street (PA 5) in Erie were complete. All that was left, a mile or so to West Eighth Street, was opened in 1984. Although the intersection at West 8th Street is the northern termius, the road continues as a four lane facility onto the Bayfront Parkway. The Bayfront Parkway opened in Oct. 1990 with a speed limit of 35 MPH.

The most recent major construction along I-79 in Pennsylvania has been the Cranberry Connector Project. This job consisted of building a direct connection between I-79 and I-76. Traffic had to get off one interstate or the other and travel through Cranberry Township in Butler Co. on PA 228 and US 19, which is a congested traffic area, before the interchange was built. Work is scheduled on a couple other areas in the Pittsburgh area, Exit 59 interchange and Exit 60. The northern approach to the bridge over the Ohio River which contains a couple of sharp bends is also in he schedule.

    Pennsylvania Exits:


Sources:

Pennsylvania Highways: Interstate 79 (http://www.pahighways.com/interstates/I79.html)
Pennsylvania Highways: Interstate 79 Exit Guide (http://www.pahighways.com/exits/I79exits.html)
Interstate 79 (http//www.ihoz.com/I79.html)
West Virginia Interstate 79 Interchanges (http://www.vwdot.com/7_tourists/7c1_interstateexits.htm)
Jennings Randolph Recognition Project (http://www.agribusinesscouncil.org/randolph.htm)
West Virginia After Coal (http://www.herald-dispatch.com/webextras/wvaftercoal/stories/Day2/HighTech.html)
Former Sen. Jennings Randolph Dies (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/campaigns/junkie/links/randolph.htm)
Hijacked Legacy: Ethanol and the Highway Trust (http://agribusinesscouncil.org/JR/JR-Highways.htm)
Interstate 79 (http://www.interstate-guide.com/i-079.html)

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