Today I accomplished something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I hiked up to the abandoned portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and got to see one of the tunnels up close and personal.
When the Pennsylvania Turnpike was built in the late 1930s, it was built along the old South Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way. There were seven tunnels along the mainline roadway, all of which were two-lane. By the mid 1960s, the tunnels were growing bottlenecks. Four of the tunnels were “twinned” with a second tunnel alongside. Three of the tunnels were bypassed. In 1968, a nearly 14 mile bypass was built between the Breezewood and Fort Littleton interchanges. The original turnpike roadway, and tunnels, still exist today and were donated to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy and are now a bike trail.
The abandoned roadway begins at the Breezewood Interchange and is visible when you exit the turnpike to follow I-70 east towards Washington D.C. From there it winds its way through the valley while it’s newer counterpart goes up over the mountains.
Unfortunately the original overpass over US 30 is in the process of being demolished, so I was unable to hike from Breezewood up to Ray’s Hill Tunnel as I originally planned. I was a little disappointed because that tunnel is short enough that you’re able to see the other end when you’re walking in.
Instead I followed US 30 east to PA 915 North and then onto Oregon Rd., a forest road. After a three mile drive through the forest and parking next to the forest station, I hiked about 1/2 mile through the woods and came across another portion of the original turnpike, about 1/4 mile west of the Sidling Hill Tunnel. This tunnel is the longest of the turnpike tunnels, clocking in at 6,782 feet. You can not see the other end of the tunnel when walking in. As you’re approaching the tunnel, you can feel the damp, cool air blowing in, chillier than anything you’ve felt from a subway tunnel. I hiked right up to it, curiously walking along the left side of the road as if it was an active roadway. I don’t know if I thought something or someone was going to come driving out of there or what, but I figured better safe than sorry.
I cautiously hiked up to the tunnel, mostly concerned about bats. Then I figured, I didn’t have any hair that they could get tangled in and if Bruce Wayne could survive the bats then I could too, so I walked in the tunnel about 250 feet and realized that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The tunnel has swallowed all the daylight I had left behind me. I peered ahead in the darkness, looking for signs of the other end of the tunnel and found none. I turned around and looked for the reassurance of the opening I had entered and saw the welcoming rays of sunlight. I turned around, walked a little closer to the opening, snapped some pictures and then hiked west along the roadway another mile or so before turning around and heading back to the car.
Afterwards, I stopped back in Breezewood, gassed up and hit the Turnpike to head home. Taking a different route than usual, I passed through Altoona and Williamsport, Pa. and Corning, Ithaca and Cortland, N.Y. before getting home.
All in all a great trip.
There’s more pictures here.