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GIR Environmental Studies

December 2017 - Excavation underway at 2nd and Callowhill streets in Northern Liberties is part of PennDOT's ongoing environmental clearance work for the I-95/GIR Improvement Project, mandated under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.  Work at this specific location was initiated by PennDOT’s plan to install a large storm water mitigation basin here during later phases (GR5, GR6) of the project.  Archaeologists are working in advance of construction to clear as much of the project area as possible with respect to archaeological sites and resources that will be eventually impacted or destroyed by I-95 related construction activities.

The attached photo shows some of the historic residential and commercial foundations associated with buildings that stood on this site prior to the original construction of I-95.  Once the archaeological work at this location finishes, the site will be backfilled and the fences now protecting the site removed.


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), requires that all federally funded highway projects undergo an environmental review to identify potential impacts. Some of the activities included in the environmental review process are:
  • Identification and evaluation of impacts to historic structures and properties
  • Exploration of the project area to determine the presence of historic and pre-contact archaeological resources
  • Identification and possible mitigation of hazardous material sites
  • Evaluation of potential impacts to parkland and recreational areas
  • Identification and possible protection of threatened and endangered species in the project area
  • Identification and minimization of negative impacts to air, noise, and water quality in the project area and surrounding neighborhoods

See below for the status and key findings of the GIR Environmental Studies.

Noise Analysis

The Noise Analysis Report completed for the project identified several locations for proposed noise abatement, in the form of noise barriers. During final design, adjacent property owners voted to install noise barriers in the areas identified in the Noise Analysis Report. The first noise barriers were installed in GR2 construction. Additional noise barriers will be constructed in GR4, GR5 and GR6.

PennDOT held meetings in 2015 to select materials and treatments for Section GR4, where affected property owners voted to have clear barriers installed. As final design for GR5 and GR6 progresses, PennDOT will hold additional meetings with adjacent property owners to identify preferences for materials and aesthetic surface treatments.


Archaeological investigations for GIR are being conducted in accordance with the requirements for federally-funded construction projects under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Archaeological testing and excavations for this project have been ongoing since 2007. This work has resulted in the discovery of many buried historic sites and the recovery of more than 200,000 individual artifacts, the oldest of which date back to around 4,000 B.C.

The excavations along I-95 have recovered more than 200,000 artifacts, including quite a few surprises. One of the most intriguing artifacts found so far is this pair of eye glasses, dubbed the “Shackamaxon Spectacles”. These are made of carved horn and are a type of eye glasses known as “rivet spectacles,” because the two halves are held together by a rivet in the nose bridge. These would have been held on the face by ribbons looped around one’s ears, as in the image at right. What is most surprising about these spectacles is their apparent age. Eye glass experts who have examined these believe they were manufactured in Europe, probably Spain, sometime in the second half of the 17th century (1650-1700 A.D.), and they may be the oldest pair of spectacles found so far found in this country.

The earliest archaeological work for this project resulted in the rediscovery of a long-lost feature of the local landscape – the Aramingo Canal. Built in the mid-19th century in order to spur economic development in the Kensington-Port Richmond neighborhoods, the canal followed the former Gunnar’s Run stream channel and extended from the Delaware River to Lehigh Street. This waterway measured 100 feet wide, and was intended to operate like an inland extension of the Philadelphia Port and waterfront.

For a full interactive digital report of archaeological findings for GIR, go to: http://www.diggingi95.com/.

Historic Structures and Properties and Recreational Resources

In addition to considering archaeological resources, Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and Section 138 of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 require that all federally-funded highway construction projects evaluate potential impacts to historic and recreational resources. The evaluation must document the resources, consider potential project impacts, and identify strategies to minimize or eliminate impacts to resources.

The GIR project area includes a number of important resources including the Benjamin Franklin Bridge; Penn Treaty Park; and the Old City, Fishtown and Northern Liberties Market Historic Districts. One such resource was the I.P. Morris Co. Machine Shop No. 2., otherwise known as the Cramp Building, which was a contributing resource to the Fishtown Historic District. The building was demolished to make way for new access ramps for northbound I-95. Prior to demolition, the building’s history was recorded, and it was photo documented. Artifacts from the building, including cranes and turbines, were salvaged for reuse and incorporation into landscape features and public art displays that may be included in the project. Click here to learn more.

GIR will also provide access improvements to Penn Treaty Park, including improved pedestrian crossings of Delaware Avenue at Columbia Avenue and a new green space/gateway feature at the northwest corner of Delaware at Columbia Avenues. Click here to learn more.