Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike

Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike

The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike is the common name of a 13 mile (21 km) stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike that was bypassed in 1968 when a modern stretch opened to ease traffic congestion. The reasoning behind the bypass was to reduce traffic congestion at the tunnels. In this case, the Sideling Hill Tunnel and Rays Hill Tunnel were bypassed, as was one of the Turnpike's travel plazas. The bypass is located just east of the heavily congested Breezewood interchange at what is now exit 161.


When the Turnpike opened in 1940, it was known as the "Tunnel Highway" because it contained seven tunnels from east to west: Blue Mountain, Kittatinny Mountain, Tuscarora Mountain, Sideling Hill, Rays Hill, Allegheny Mountain, and Laurel Hill. There was one tunnel through each mountain, and the highway was reduced to a single lane in each direction through each tunnel.

Originally, this wasn't a problem, but by the late 1950s, the Turnpike was so heavily used that traffic congestion was a problem at the tunnels. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) did studies to see if it could either expand or bypass the tunnels. The result of this project was the "twinning" (construction of a second, parallel, two-lane tunnel) of four tunnels, and outright bypass and closure of the other three. The tunnels through the Blue, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny mountains were expanded through the "twinning" process, while the other three were bypassed, as it was determined cheaper to bypass them. The Laurel Hill Tunnel, located on the border of Westmoreland County and Somerset County, was one of these tunnels, though the bypass was only around two miles long.

The Sideling Hill and Rays Hill tunnels, on the other hand, were near each other, and a much longer bypass about 13 miles in length was created. This lengthy rerouting also bypassed the Cove Valley Travel Plaza, which was located between the eastern portal of the Sideling Hill Tunnel and the point at which the bypass departed the original mainline. After the new bypass opened, the Cove Valley plaza was replaced with the new Sideling Hill Travel Plaza, which, unlike the plaza it replaced, was a single building serving travelers from both directions of the highway.


Today, the "Abandoned Turnpike", as it is commonly known, has become a popular tourist attraction. The PTC sold most of the property to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy (SAC) for $1 in 2001.cite news
first = Larry
last = Walsh
title = Cycling: Tighter security near Confluence dam sends cyclists in search of new campsite
url = http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/outdoors/20011104walsh1104p3.asp
work = Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
date = November 4, 2001
accessdate = 2006-09-14
language = English
] The property is managed by "Friends of the Pike 2 Bike", a coalition of non-profit groups (including the SAC) to eventually convert the stretch into a bike trail. The property is officially closed to the public (see below), and no motor vehicles are allowed on the property, but riders are free to use it at their own risk. The trail requires helmets and lights. The PTC still owns a stretch of about one quarter mile on the west and 3.5 miles on the east for maintenance purposes.

The entranceways to the tunnels were in respectable shape through the early 1980s, when vandalism and time began to take their toll, with the letterings of the signs of the tunnels being removed by vandals sometime between 1981 and 1999. The tunnels themselves are still standing and despite no maintenance in decades are still structurally sound.

A business plan/ feasibility study was completed by Gannett Flemming in 2005. [http://www.piketobike.org/history.htm Pike 2 Bike Tunnel Trail History ] ] It proposed various ideas to make the trail as accessible as possible for cyclists, hikers, roller bladers, and equestrians.

As of November 2007, the trail is in the process of changing ownership to Bedford County. This is in response to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' need for a governmental body to own the trail before it can give out grants. The "Friends of the Pike 2 Bike" will continue to run and oversee the trail.


The Abandoned Turnpike has had many uses over the years, beginning with the weekend it closed. With the bypass opening in time for Thanksgiving weekend, the PTC invited Macy's to have their annual Thanksgiving Day Parade on the Abandoned Turnpike during that year. Macy's declined the request. [ [http://www.briantroutman.com/highways/abandonedpaturnpike/index.html The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike — Brief History ] ]

In the early 1970s, the emission levels of unleaded gasoline were tested in Rays Hill Tunnel. A Plymouth Satellite was used as the test vehicle. More recently, a local church from Breezewood uses the tunnel for choir practice.

The PTC and PennDOT used the highway to train maintenance workers, as well as for testing of a feature commonly found on the road today: rumble strips were born on the highway in 1987.

There have also been numerous military uses for the highway; the tunnels were considered as a storage area for weapons, as was the open highway for aircraft. The military also used the highway for training soldiers for Iraq in the early 2000s, even after the highway was sold to the SAC.

The site of the former Cove Valley Travel Plaza was used as a shooting range for the Pennsylvania State Police. Since the SAC bought the property, the site has not been used as a shooting range, although warning signs are still posted in the area.

Other tunnel bypasses

The Abandoned Turnpike is perhaps the best-known of tunnel bypasses on toll roads. Among the other bypassed tunnels:
* The aforementioned bypass of the Laurel Hill Tunnel, which preceded the Sideling Hill and Rays Hill bypass by four years.
* The Memorial Tunnel on the West Virginia Turnpike was bypassed in 1987 to complete bringing that highway up to Interstate standards. Unlike the PA Turnpike, the West Virginia Turnpike was built two lanes for its entire length, and needed an additional two lanes in order to get the Interstate 77 and Interstate 64 designations.
* The PTC considered bypassing the Lehigh Tunnel on the Northeast Extension before ultimately deciding on twinning the tunnel. Cost for the bypass and unnecessary added mileage to the highway were deciding factors. [ [http://www.pahighways.com/toll/PATurnpike.html#Chapter9 Pennsylvania Highways: Pennsylvania Turnpike ] ]
* The PTC has been considering bypassing the deteriorating Allegheny Mountain Tunnel to alleviate traffic congestion. [ [http://www.paturnpike.com/newsletters/winter2000/page03.htm Improving the Roadway ] ] Boring a third tunnel is also being considered.


In late 2005, the PTC restricted access to the Abandoned Turnpike by demolishing an overpass over US 30 in Breezewood as well as an overpass near the site of the old Cove Valley Travel Plaza. The removal of the overpasses, while preventing motorized vehicles from easily entering the Abandoned Turnpike, was done to remove the liability and expense of repairing an aging bridge. The original plans for the removal included an access road but somewhere along the way it was removed and not known to Pike 2 Bike officials until it was too late. As of 2007, the "Friends of the Pike 2 Bike" are seeking to obtain grants that will allow the building of an access road and to rebuild on it the last remaining original toll booth, obtained in 2006. The toll booth will be used to collect a parking donation which will be used to pay for maintenance.

People who wish to ride the Pike 2 Bike may park at the intersection of Tannery Rd. and Rt. 30 in front of the orange snow fence, and walk their bikes up the hill. There is also a parking lot on the trail at the eastern end off Pump Station Rd. north of Rt. 30. The entrance is a service road just south of where the bridge was removed.


External links

* [http://www.pike2bike.org The official site for the Pike 2 Bike]
* [http://www.briantroutman.com/highways/abandonedpaturnpike/index.html Brian Troutman's Abandoned PA Turnpike Minisite]
* [http://www.paturnpike.com PA Turnpike's Official Web Site]
* [http://www.abandonedturnpike.com Informative Website Detailing the Abandoned Tunnel.]
* [http://www.prea.com/pennlines/February05.pdf PDF Article of Tunnel Vision with History of the Abandoned Sections]
* [http://picasaweb.google.com/floor9/AbandonedPennsylvaniaTurnpike Detailed collection of photos of the abandoned segment and tunnels.]

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