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The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike in Fulton County

August 20, 2020 08:00 AM
By: Maggie Baker

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​Did you know that part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was abandoned? Originally opened to traffic in 1940, the Turnpike soon outgrew some of the original tunnels used to travel through the mountains. Congestion, delays and miles long backups forced the Turnpike Commission to seek other alternatives for the growing number of vehicles on the roadway. In 1968, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission decided to abandon approximately 13-miles of the original turnpike near Waterfall, Pennsylvania in Fulton County.

Several of the tunnels the Pennsylvania Turnpike used had already been started in the mid-1800's for the South Penn Railroad, but they were never completed. By 1968, these tunnels proved to be inferior, with low clearance for trucks and the miles of backlog they created when the four-lane highway became a one lane in each direction at the tunnels. Further, each lane went from 12-foot wide to 11.5-foot wide inside the tunnel.

A study concluded that it was more economical to expand the Blue, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny Mountain tunnels with new parallel tunnels, bypassing the Sideling Hill, Rays Hill, and Laurel Hill tunnels. This left 13 miles of the original turnpike abandoned.

This "abandoned" section of Turnpike wasn't really abandoned for over 40 years, rather it was used by the Turnpike Commission to train snowplow drivers, test prototype rumble strips, road reflections, and reflective paint. In 2001, the Turnpike Commission sold a portion of the roadway to the Alleghenies Conservancy, but nothing came of this purchase. Most recently, "Friends of the Bike 2 Pike" are interested in raising funds to build, maintain and promote the currently abandoned Turnpike and tunnels and connect it with Bike PA Route S.

To help raise money for these updates, Friends of the Bike 2 Pike program offer numerous guided tours. Officially, the trails are closed to the public, and those who use the trails do so at their own risk. Regardless of whether you actually go to the abandoned Turnpike and tunnels or just research them a little more, the history is still fascinating.  

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