Keystone Shortway (Interstate 80) comes to Monroe County

Naturally occurring dolomite rock, a very dense and hard rock, was blasted to make way for the Keystone Shortway (Interstate 80) through Monroe County. This photo was taken near the 400 block of Colbert Street in south Stroudsburg.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director

Monroe County Historical Association

Every day, thousands of motorists travel Interstate 80 through Monroe County. Interstate 80 traverses the United States, beginning in the east in New Jersey and ending in the west in California, and 311 of the nearly 3,000 miles of the highway are located in Pennsylvania.

Interstate 80 was built in sections across the United States, and construction of the cross-country highway took decades to complete. In Pennsylvania, the highway was known as the Keystone Shortway.

Plans for the Keystone Shortway began in the early 1950s. Officials from the highway commission monitored traffic throughout the Commonwealth and devised a plan to route vehicles through our state in a more efficient manner. The development of a highway, offering a non-stop travel route, was laid out in our area in such a way to parallel to the Pennsylvania Turnpike located in southern Pennsylvania.

Through an announcement in the newspaper, the citizens of Monroe County were invited to an October 1957 meeting where the plans for the new highway were presented. Engineers revealed the route and labeled it Plan “A” (which is the current location of the highway).

Immediately, there was dissatisfaction with the plans. Some local citizens were upset that the highway would pass too close to the boroughs of Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg.

A “Citizens ByPass Committee of Monroe County” immediately formed to voice the concerns of the public. The committee highlighted nine major issues with the Plan A route, including, but not limited to: economic hardship; traffic issues in the boroughs; loss of tax revenue, and the inability for future lane expansion.

The committee suggested an alternate location for the Keystone Shortway during a public hearing on January 14, 1958. From Delaware Water Gap, the highway would turn north at the present-day Marshalls Creek exit and follow Franklin Hill Road to Eagle Valley Corners in East Stroudsburg. The route would then cut more-or-less westward over Mill Creek Road and follow Chipperfield Drive in Stroudsburg before continuing west toward Bartonsville.

This alternate plan was known as Plan “F.” This route would bypass the two boroughs and would allow trucks better access the industrial region of the county. The ByPass Committee also claimed that their Plan “F” route would cost $4 million less than the Plan “A” route.

While it does appear that the arguments made by the Citizens ByPass Committee of Monroe County were reasonable, Plan “A” remained in place, and work was begun to build the Keystone Shortway in Monroe County.

The first section of the Keystone Shortway opened in Monroe County on December 16, 1953, when the Delaware Water Gap Bridge (now known as the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge) opened to traffic. Spanning the Delaware River, the bridge had taken two years to build.

During the dedication ceremony, officials boasted about the modern bridge and how this section of I-80 would “develop trade and good will” and how the highway would be “an important artery of travel for the nation in time of peace and defense.”

On October 26, 1961, the final 1.6-mile section of the Keystone Shortway in Stroudsburg was dedicated. This portion linked the Delaware Water Gap Bridge to the western section of the highway in Monroe County. Pennsylvania Gov. David L. Lawrence as well as dignitaries from Pennsylvania and New Jersey were in attendance for the dedication.

Nine years later, on September 17, 1970, the Pennsylvania section of I-80 was completed, at a total cost of $324 million. Motorists had the ability to travel uninterrupted through the Commonwealth from Delaware Water Gap in Monroe County to Sharon in Mercer County.

That same year, George W. Ely of Camp Hill was the first motorist to travel the Keystone Shortway in its entirety. Riding a motorcycle, Ely began at Delaware Water Gap and described his journey and the natural beauty of the state.

In Pennsylvania, Interstate 80 is also known as the “Z.H. Confair Memorial Highway.” Zehnder H. Confair was a popular state senator from Lycoming County (located in north central Pennsylvania). Confair, who served as president of the Keystone Shortway Association, led the campaign to develop and create the four-lane highway that crossed the Commonwealth.

Because of Confair’s decades-long enthusiasm and unwavering dedication to the highway project, the highway was named in his honor. On October 4, 1984, Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh signed HB 1711 Section 3 act which read, “the entire portion of Keystone Highway Interstate Route 80 situated in Pennsylvania shall hereafter be known as the Z.H. Confair Memorial Highway.”

Over the years, officials have made many improvements to and have suggested changes for the highway as required by modern motor travel.

In 2001, the exit numbers on I-80 in Pennsylvania were renumbered to be consistent with the rest of the nation. The new numbers matched the mile markers so that travelers could better plan their travel times. Every few years, the discussion rises again as to whether I-80 should become a toll road. Even today, officials are looking at the Monroe County section of the highway for expansion.

For more than four decades, many have traveled the “Keystone Shortway” to reach their destinations and get quickly from point to point, proving that the Pennsylvania section of I-80 continues to be an important artery in the U.S.highway system.