The opening of a new interchange that connects Route 29 in Chester County to the Pennsylvania Turnpike - the first statewide that is E-ZPass-only in both directions - was a mix of a rocket blastoff and a long-desired but difficult birth.
"Three, two, one," the crowd of public officials, area business people, and other onlookers yelled just before 3 p.m. Wednesday as Gov. Corbett cut a ribbon with oversize scissors to open a ramp and close the chapter on a project that had a 13-year gestation period. The process began in 1999.
"I never thought, candidly, that my career would extend long enough to be part of a day like this," said David P. Holveck, chief executive officer of Endo Health Solutions, which will move early next year into its new headquarters in Malvern, near the interchange.
The $60 million project, completely funded by tolls, is meant to ease traffic over 14 miles on one of the most congested stretches of the turnpike. An average of 50,000 vehicles use it daily, according to a turnpike news release.
Built in the Great Valley area about halfway between the Downingtown and Valley Forge exits, the interchange is expected to lighten traffic on Route 202 at the Valley Forge interchange, on Route 29 near Swedesford and Matthews Roads, and on Route 401 and Phoenixville Pike west of Route 29.
It is the third all-electronic interchange on the turnpike, a spokesman said. And there will be more: About 70 percent of turnpike tolls are now paid through E-ZPass.
The high expectations also extend to the area's economic fortunes, which are driven by the many nearby companies and business parks.
Endo decided to relocate its headquarters from Chadds Ford to Malvern after construction on the interchange was under way, Holveck said.
The turnpike project had a bumpy beginning. Some Chester County officials and residents in the late 1990s feared overdevelopment and said the interchange violated the county's land-use plan.
The biggest challenge for the newborn interchange might be educating drivers that it accepts only E-ZPass. Drivers who enter it without an E-ZPass transponder will have their license plates photographed when their cars exit the highway, and will have to pay a fine that is higher than the turnpike toll.
Malvern resident Reuben Garrett, who came to the opening, says the access should make residential roads safer from cut-through traffic in his neighborhood.
"This is great," he said. "I'm going to use it tomorrow morning."