A toll road which runs from the Ohio border to Breezewood, where it meets (non-toll) I 70 which provides a short connection to Maryland and points south including Washington, DC.

There is a spur of the Turnpike continuing on to Harrisburg and the New Jersey border. The Ohio exit is the entrance to the Ohio Turnpike, the New Jersey exit is in the middle of the New Jersey Turnpike.

The tolls range in price depending on how far one travels, some tolls can be as low as 35c for one exit to as high as $7.00 or more.

Taken from Pennsylvania Highways, by Jeff Kitsko (used with permission from the author - thanks Jeff):

This highway should have no introduction, since it is "America's First Superhighway." However, the Turnpike had its roots in another form of transportation: the railroad. William H. Vanderbilt proposed an idea to build a railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh that would be under his control, and not that of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

After the surveying was complete, work began on a two-track roadbed with nine tunnels. Excavation began on the tunnels in early 1884. Thousands of workers dug the tunnels for $1.25 for a 10 hour day. The construction continued through 1884 and 1885; however, trouble for the project was starting in New York. Banker J. Pierpont Morgan won a seat on the board of Vanderbilt's New York City & Hudson River Railroad. Morgan with the President of the NYC&RRRR sold the right-of-way to George B. Roberts, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Work stopped immediately. A total of $10 million had been spent and 26 workers lost their lives. The unfinished project came to be known as "Vanderbilt's Folly"...

The twentieth century came and with it a new form of transportation: the automobile. Pennsylvania was one of the first states to establish a highway department. In late 1934, an employee with the State Planning Board named Victor Lecoq and William Sutherland of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association proposed the idea of building a toll road utilizing the old roadbed and tunnels left behind. With these two gentlemen and with newly elected Representative Cliff S. Patterson, the idea became reality. On April 23, 1935, he introduced House Resolution #138 to authorize a feasibility study...

The engineers also had to change they way they designed highways. Highways had always been built with flat curves to discourage speeding. Now, the engineers were expected to design easy grades, to allow cars and trucks year round use. Long, sweeping curves would give ample room for high speeds and safe stopping distances. The engineers decided on the following standards:

  • A right-of-way width of 200 feet.
  • A four-lane divided configuration, with 12 foot wide concrete traffic lanes, a 10 foot wide median strip and 10 foot wide shoulders, for a total of 78 foot width of ROW. (Early plans called for 10 foot wide lanes, and just a four foot wide median strip. Also, a cheaper design that used two concrete lanes and two asphalt lanes was dropped.)
  • A maximum grade of 3 % (three feet of climb for every 100 feet of forward travel), compared to hills as steep as 9 to 12 % on the old two lane William Penn (US 22) and Lincoln Highways (US 30).
  • A maximum curvature of 6 degrees, most of which occurred on the climb from New Baltimore to the Allegheny Tunnel; however, most curves were only 3 to 4 %.
  • Substantial superelevation, or banking, on curves.
  • Limited access, with 1,200 foot long entrance and exit ramps to provide plenty of distance for accelerating and decelerating.
  • A minimum 600 foot sight distance from motorist to traffic ahead.
  • No cross streets, driveways, traffic signals, crosswalks or railroad grade crossings. All vehicular or pedestrian traffic would go over or under the Turnpike. Along the same distance on the Lincoln Highway and US 11, there were 939 cross streets, 12 railroad crossings and 25 traffic signals.

What separated this highway from others was that it was considered one continuous design task from Irwin to Carlisle. Charles Noble, a design engineer for the Commission who later moved on to become chief engineer for the New Jersey Highway Department and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, described this feat in the July 1940 Civil Engineering magazine, "Unlike the existing highway systems of the United States, in which design standards fluctuate every few miles, depending on the date of construction, the Turnpike will have the same design characteristics throughout its 160-mile length. Every effort has been directed towards securing uniform and consistent operating conditions for the motorist." He also went on to say, "In fact, the design was attacked from the viewpoint of motor-car operation and the human frailty of the driver, rather than from that of the difficulty of the terrain and method of construction This policy of design, based on vehicle operation, is relatively new"...

The project called for:

  • 160 miles of four-lane all concrete highway, from Middlesex in Cumberland County (15 miles west of Harrisburg) to Irwin in Westmoreland County (20 miles east of Pittsburgh).
  • Seven two-lane tunnels, which total to 6.7 miles in length. Six where former South Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels; however, Allegheny Mountain was built 85 feet south of the old railroad tunnel because its interior was considered to be unstable and dangerous. Tunnels were constructed at Allegheny Mountain, Ray's Hill, Sideling Hill, Tuscarora Mountain, Kittatinny Mountain, and Blue Mountain. Two other former South Pennsylvania tunnels at Quemahoning Mountain and Negro Mountain were bypassed with open cuts.
  • Eleven interchanges, with toll booths (ticket offices originally) at Irwin, New Stanton, Donegal, Somerset, Bedford, Breezewood, Fort Littleton, Willow Hill, Blue Mountain, Carlisle, and Middlesex. One toll plaza, a mainline barrier, served both Carlisle and Middlesex.
  • Ten service plazas, located 25 to 30 miles apart, which in total cost $500,000 to construct, where the traveler could eat or purchase gasoline. The Commission decided not to operate the plazas themselves, but instead to license them to Standard Oil of Pennsylvania which operated the gas stations and who in turn subcontracted out the dining areas and gift shops to the Howard Johnson's restaurant company. Taking a page from the German Autobahns, the planners decided to make the plazas resemble regional architecture, which in this case was early Pennsylvania stone houses.
  • ...

    The full text of this article can be found at http://www.pahighways.com/toll/PATurnpike.html

    From the official Pennsylvania Turnpike website (http://www.paturnpike.com), the Turnpike was later expanded as follows:

    • Philadelphia Extension, Carlisle (Exit 16) to Valley Forge (Exit 24); 100 miles, opened 1950.
    • Western Extension, Irwin (Exit 7) to Ohio line (Exit 1); 67 miles, opened 1951.
    • Delaware River Extension, Valley Forge to Delaware River (exit 30); 33 miles, opened 1954.
    • Delaware River Bridge Interchange to Bridge; 1.5 miles, opened 1956.
    • Northeastern Extension, Main Line to Scranton (Exit 39); 110 miles, opened 1957.
    • James J. Manderino Highway (Turnpike 43), opened 1990.
    • James E. Ross Highway (Turnpike 60), opened 1992.
    • Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass (Turnpike 66), opened 1993
    • Mon-Fayette Expressway/Mason-Dixon Link, opened 2000

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike has a total of eight tunnels: Allegheny, Laurel Hill, Ray's Hill, Sideling Hill, Tuscarora Mountain, Kittatiny Mountain, Blue Mountain, and Lehigh. Of these, the Laurel Hill, Ray's Hill, and Sideling Hill tunnels have been bypassed. Blue Mountain and Lehigh tunnels cut through the same mountain.

    Even though it's not completely up to standard (simply because of the narrow median), the Turnpike is currently signed as Interstate 76 through most of its length (I-76 continues on the Schuylkill Expressway towards Philadelphia), and as I-276 from Valley Forge to the Delaware River Bridge. The Northeast Extension is signed as I-476 (which it shares with the Blue Route), from its previous designation as PA-9.

    As mentioned above, three of the original tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have been bypassed. As originally built (or, rather, converted from old railroad tunnels), the tunnels only carried two lanes of traffic, which meant drivers had to merge at the entrance to every tunnel. As traffic volumes increased on the turnpike, these bottlenecks caused frequent traffic jams.

    The situation at Laurel Hill was the first one dealt with; the tunnel was bypassed in 1964. A new 2-lane tunnel was built at Allegheny Mountain adjacent to the existing tunnel, and the new tunnel opened in 1965, with the original tunnel reopening in 1966, after a renovation, finally allowing four lanes of traffic through.

    The Kittatinny, Blue Mountain, and Tuscarora Mountain tunnels were also twinned, with the new tubes opening in 1968 and the original tunnels reopening, after their renovations, between 1970 and 1971.

    The Ray’s Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels were bypassed by a new 13.5-mile alignment, which opened in 1968. The new alignment also bypassed a service plaza that had been just east of the Sideling Hill tunnel, replacing it with a new plaza that served both directions of traffic, unlike the existing service plazas, which stood at various locations on either side of the road serving traffic in one direction only.

    Finally, the Lehigh tunnel on the Northeast Extension was twinned in the early 1990s.

    The bypassed tunnels are still very much in existence, although reaching any of them requires a little bit of a trek through the wilds of Pennsylvania. The easiest point to reach is the west portal of the Sideling Hill tunnel. Here’s how:

    Exit the turnpike at Breezewood (exit 161, formerly exit 12). Most of the long exit ramp is actually the old alignment of the turnpike that led to and through the Sideling Hill and Ray’s Hill tunnels, but that alignment is blocked off at a point shortly before the exit ramp ends at U.S. 30. Turn right (eastbound) onto U.S. 30, the opposite direction from the connection to Interstate 70.

    Drive several miles, first crossing under an old overpass carrying the old alignment and then crossing over the current alignment. Watch for an intersection with Pennsylvania state highway 915 to the south. Northbound 915 becomes multiplexed with U.S. 30 here, but after less than a mile, it leaves U.S. 30 to head north again. Make the left turn onto northbound 915.

    (When coming from the south on westbound Interstate 70, it’s possible to bypass the Breezewood mess by using exit 151, formerly exit 30, which is highway 915.)

    915 winds through the woods, again crossing the current turnpike at one point, and after about three miles, there is a sharp right turn and the first noticeable downhill grade. (At this point, you have already driven on top of the Sideling Hill tunnel on 915, and the current turnpike alignment also passes over the tunnel.) On the left here, there is a trailhead marked with a “Tunnel Trail” sign. The steep trail runs down towards the tunnel and is about three-quarters of a mile long.

    There is an easier route involving less walking than the Tunnel Trail route. Stay in the car and, about 100 yards from the Tunnel Trail trailhead, make a sharp left onto Oregon Road, which is a winding, narrow gravel road.

    After about a mile, there is a ranger station on the left side of the road, a log cabin with a small parking area next to it. Park here. Behind the ranger station, past a gate to keep vehicles off of it, a wide path runs for about 150 yards through a clearing and then briefly through the woods before going up an embankment to meet the former turnpike right of way just west of the Sideling Hill tunnel.

    Of course, there are no old signs still standing along the old turnpike, and most of the paint visible on the roadway is actually the result of latter-day paint testing by the Turnpike Commission, but the concrete pavement still looks fairly good despite not having been maintained in 30 years. It’s easy to imagine the ghosts of traffic past on the old Turnpike, the Chevy Bel Airs and the Ford Falcons leaving the tunnel and accelerating to 70 miles per hour in one direction, while the horns honk and tempers flare in the other direction as two lanes of traffic funnel into one. And it’s easy to imagine yourself as the sole survivor of some nightmarish Apocalypse scenario that, if nothing else, gave you the ability to lie down in the middle of an Interstate and gaze up at the clouds.

    From here, it’s possible to hike the old road for a couple of miles west, towards the Ray’s Hill tunnel. The Sideling Hill tunnel is posted “no trespassing,” has no lights, and is well over a mile long, so enter at your own risk. This is state forest land, so it’s public property, and depending on the season, you may encounter people on all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, or cross-country skis. At certain times of the year, you may also encounter people with shotguns, so watch out if you’re not wearing bright colors.

    It’s even easier to do this as a virtual trip, albeit slightly less satisfying, by using Terraserver with a starting location of Breezewood, and then following the old alignment northeast (as noted above, it starts off as an exit ramp from the current alignment). The Ray’s Hill tunnel is fairly close to Breezewood, and then the Sideling Hill tunnel is beyond that.

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike, going over and through the Allegheny mountains in the middle of the state, was the nation's first "super highway" and inspired the construction of the interstate system. It was designed to be robust, high-speed, and weatherproof, and was the first of its kind.

    The earliest turnpikes

    George Washington created the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company in 1792 as part of a plan to promote westward expansion by building roads. This company built a 62-mile log-surfaced road near Philadelphia (on the eastern side of the state). Still, the 300-mile trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was a harsh one, largely on dirt roads, and taking up to 35 days to complete.

    In 1814 Colonel John Irwin assisted in creating the Pittsburgh-to-Greensburg turnpike (on the western end of the state), which passed through a number of towns and ran right by Irwin's house. A turnpike or pike, it should be mentioned, is the name for the bar across a toll road. By 1817, the turnpike stretched from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and was traveled by foot and horseback. Sheep and hogs were six cents per score; carts and wagons with wheels wider than eight inches were free. This road is thought to have run along what is now Rte 30, Lincoln Highway.

    Roads for long-distance travel were largely obsolete by the 1850's due to train travel; the Pennsylvania Railroad (located further north than the Turnpike) was a comfortable and popular alternative. Washington's Philadelphia-Lancaster road was replaced with a canal in 1880.

    Vanderbilt does the dirty work

    William Vanderbilt, together with Andrew Carnegie, had the idea to build a railroad, the South Pennsylvania Railroad, to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad to the north. He began construction in 1883 and ran out of money sometime around 1885. When the project was abandoned, much of the right-of-way had been cleared, 4.5 miles of tunnels had been dug (there were to be nine tunnels total), $10 million had been spent, and 26 lives lost.

    The Pittsburgh, Westmoreland, and Somerset Railroad, a short line (narrow gauge) railroad operating near Pittsburgh, made use of the Quemahoning tunnel from Vanderbilt's project. Otherwise, the abandoned project lay unused until the 1930's.

    The "weather proof super highway"

    Early in the twentieth century, road travel was difficult because most roads were made of dirt. When the weather was wet, the roads would be so muddy that a car could barely slog through; when it was dry, the dust was so bad that travelers had to wear goggles and makeshift dust masks. As early as 1910, the idea of making a paved road across the state for easy motor travel was being tossed around. There were about 600,000 car owners in the US at that point.

    In 1934, three men—Victor Lecoq of the Pennsylvania Planning Board, William Sutherland of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, and State Representative Cliff S. Patterson—thought to propose such a highway along the abandoned South Pennsylvania Railroad that Vanderbilt began. They conducted feasability studies, and Patterson intruduced the bill in the State House in 1935. He was its only sponsor, but support for the bill picked up after reporter David Fernsler started writing about the "weather-proof tunnel highway."

    It deserved the epithet; the Turnpike ended up using seven of Vanderbilt's nine planned tunnels. As much of the road as possible was built on the southern and western faces of hills, the better for sunshine to melt the snow and dry the rain. The tunnels and the cuts through mountains kept the road at low altitudes, which also helped the weather.

    Even though 155 separate companies were working on various sections of the road, it was considered to be one design project from end to end, a novel idea for the time. Philosophically, the design was driven by the needs of motorists rather than merely being built around the terrain.

    Inspired by Germany's autobahns, the Turnpike was designed to be traveled at a speed of 100mph on the straighaways (which made up 70% of its length) and 70mph on the gentle curves. Toll booths were built on downhill grades to give drivers plenty of time to spot them. Even today the Turnpike has one of the lowest traffic fatality rates in the country.

    aremmes's writeup has some more details on the Turnpike's design.

    Building the Turnpike

    In the midst of the depression, banks were not eager to support this unusual highway, but fortunately it was just the sort of project that FDR was looking to promote as part of the New Deal. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was loaned $41 million from the New Deal's Reconstruction Finance Corporation and another $29 million from the WPA. The bonds were to be paid back from the tolls collected.

    The Turnpike succeeded financially (they paid back their bonds) and also in terms of road design. It inspired Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey to build major toll roads of their own, and also inspired FDR's Federal Aid Highway Act which paved the way (ha!) for the Interstate highway system.

    When construction began, the 15,000 workers built the road at a rate of 3.5 miles per day. All seven tunnels had to be extended, widened, or (in one case) restarted in a different part of the mountain. The workers built 300 bridges and culverts, 10 Howard Johnson/Esso service plazas, 9 interchanges and 11 sets of toll booths.

    Opening Day

    The turnpike opened on October 1, 1940. Cars were lined up at the toll booths to be among the first to ride it. It stretched 160 miles, from Irwin (just east of Pittsburgh) to Middlesex (near Carlisle, just west of Harrisburg). The highlight of the ten service plazas was Midway, the halfway point and housing the only HoJo's of the bunch that served a full dinner menu. Today the rest stops look exactly the same as in the old photos, except that the little round Esso pumps out front have been replaced with a bigger Sunoco station to the side. Midway in particular has an ice cream stand in the front, and a sign explaining that it was, once, the halfway point on the turnpike.

    Today, the turnpike covers a total of 531 miles (including the Northeast Expansion and the Western Expansion). It includes 59 toll booths, 21 service plazas, 2,192 employees, and is traveled by 172.8 million vehicles each year (87% of which are passenger cars, the rest commercial trucks). In the Turnpike's first full year, 1941, 1.3 million cars were expected. 2.4 million ended up driving it.

    The tunnels

    The Turnpike had been designed as a four-lane highway with a wide grassy median, but the tunnels were only wide enough to fit two lanes of traffic, so cars coming from each direction had to merge into a single lane to pass through the tunnel. The Turnpike Commission had already underestimated the number of cars that would travel on the turnpike; by the 1960's the tunnels (except for the Lehigh tunnel, which was built with four lanes in 1957) were a major bottleneck, causing huge backups of traffic. The Commission took another look at the tunnels. In 1968 they decided to bypass three of them, and bore new "companion tunnels" in the others (Allegheny Mountain was bored slightly earlier, in 1964)..

    All of the defunct tunnels are still there, and can be seen if you know where to look. The Quemahoning and Negro Hill tunnels can be seen from the roadside (at mile markers 106.3 and 116.7, respectively); the section of road containing the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels can be walked or biked - see trainman's writeup for the details on that. Ray's Hill was the shortest of the tunnels and Sideling Hill the longest. Those who've been inside Sideling Hill say that you can't see the end of the tunnel until you're already a few thousand feet in, and that the middle of the tunnel has icicles on the ceiling even in the middle of summer.

    The Allegheny tunnel will soon join their ranks. The Turnpike Commission seems to be distracted with other projects at the moment, but studies in 1996 led to a decision in 1999 that Allegheny should be bypassed.

    Tunnel          years
    Laurel Hill     1940-1964
    Negro Hill
    Allegheny Mtn   1940-soon
    Ray's Hill      1940-1968
    Sideling Hill   1940-1968
    Tuscarora Mtn   1940-present
    Kittatinny Mtn  1940-present
    Blue Mtn        1940-present
    Lehigh          1957-present

    trainman's writeup has more details on the tunnels and what happened to each.

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