Cumberland Valley Rail Trail
April 7, 2016
Swatara Rail-Trail
April 8, 2016

Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike

Located east of the Breezewood interchange that is characterized by heavy congestion, the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike is 13 miles (21 km) and could not be used anymore after 1968 when it was finally bypassed. This happened after the commissioning of a modern stretch meant to ensure that the congestion that was being experienced in the tunnels at the time was finally eased.

In the process, the Turnpike’s travel plazas as well as Rays Hill Tunnel and Sideling Hill Tunnel were also bypassed. The Turnpike was very useful when it was finally opened in the year 1940 and it sits on the former right-of-way of the South Pennsylvania Railroad whose completion was never realized. That is why this particular trail is termed unofficially as a rail trail.

During the construction of this turnpike, one short tunnel on the corridor where it lies was bypassed. The South Pennsylvania Railroad had several tunnels to serve it that ran through mountains. The turnpike passes through seven tunnels namely Blue Mountain, Kittatinny Mountain, Tuscarora Mountain, Sideling Hill, Rays Hill, Allegheny Mountain and Laurel Hill respectively, from east to west.

It was known as the Tunnel Highway at the time with reference to these seven tunnels that it passes through. By late 1950s, the turnpike was already experiencing some heavy traffic congestion and bypassing or expanding the tunnels were the two viable options. After conducting studies, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) opted to go for the “twinning” process.

This meant the construction of another two-lane tunnel parallel to the other. In the process, three tunnels were bypassed while Allegheny, Kittatinny, Blue and Tuscarora Mountain were expanded through “twinning.” Today, the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike is a bike trail that is out of bounds to the public.

In 2001, the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy (SAC) acquired most of this property from PTC and is currently under the management of Friend of the Pike 2 Bike; the coalition that converted the trail into a bike trail. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources insists that this trail needs to be under the ownership of a government body for grants to be accessed.

Hence, since November 2007 the trail is in the process of having its ownership transferred to Bedford County. Though the public is not allowed to access this trail, bikers are allowed to use it only at their own risk. Therefore, any other activities such as jogging, dog walking, running, walking and the like are totally discouraged here.

That might be the case for now but Gennet Fleming, who completed his business plan and feasibility study on the trail in 2005 suggests several ways on how this trail can be accessible to inline skaters, cyclists, equestrians and hikers. This will make the trail much more useful and many will have the opportunity to explore the tunnels that are still in good shape as well as the surrounding environment.

It is important to mention that the turnpike remains a famous tourist destination to date meaning that it has much more to offer, than just being a place for bikers, who are expected to have lights and helmets when using it.

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