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4.09.2015

Visiting The Abandoned Turnpike

I finally got to check off the Abandoned Turnpike from my bucket list. I had always been wanting to go, but this was the first time in a long time that I was not rushed for time in crossing the state. This was well worth it. Here is some backstory on how this section of the turnpike became abandoned.

The fabled and amazing Pennsylvania Turnpike started off as a folly of a railway plan. The Pennsylvania Railroad had a monopoly on East to West rail transportation through the state. In 1881 this railway was planned, after the right-of-way was considered as a route for the Pennsylvania Railroad back in the 1840s. Vanderbilt, the owner of the New York Central Railway, and the steel giants in Carnegie and Frick, allied to plan and execute construction on the South Pennsylvania Railway. 
Andrew Carnegie gloating in a picture in front of the Rays Hill Tunnel
The plan required crossing six mountain ridges and the creation of nine rail tunnels. The famous JP Morgan sensed a threat to rail profits with the creation of this railroad, so he saw to it that the project was abandoned. The end result was lots of cleared right of way and nine tunnels that were in various states of completion when the project was abandoned. 

Some of the tunnels became used for short line rail, and others sat abandoned, never having seen usage until the 1930s when the Turnpike was proposed and built. Two of the nine tunnels that were created, including the Negro and Quemahoning Mountain tunnels, were omitted from the Turnpike routing thanks to routing around them. Three of the other tunnels bored out for the turnpike, the Laurel Hill, Ray's Hill, and Sideling Hill Tunnels, were put into use when the turnpike was first built, but were routed around at later points because major traffic jams were caused when the four lane highway merged into the two lane tunnels. The Laurel Hill Tunnel was easy to route around, however, a huge problem came for the Turnpike when it came to routing around the Rays Hill and Sideling Hill Tunnels, thanks to Sideling Hill's length of over a mile and the scale of the mountain. Due to the enormity of this tunnel, a large rerouting project took place as opposed to creating a twin tunnel as was done with the Tuscarora, Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, and later on, the Lehigh Tunnel. 

The Sideling Hill and Raya Hill Tunnels were routed around in 1968. This left a 13.5 mile stretch of former Turnpike right-of-way abandoned along with the Rays Hill and Sideling Hill Tunnels. This is the longest stretch of abandoned freeway in America. That is where the fun comes in for us.

In 2001 the abandoned turnpike routing was opened up to bicyclists and hikers. Here is a view of the old road. The post-apocolyptic feel of this area has drawn thousands to explore this area. Even with all of the visitors, this stretch of roadway still feels like it is just frozen in time, not having been touched in ages. If you want to get a feel of what it would feel like if you were caught up in a book or movie like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, or in Zombieland, this is definitely a place that you want to check out. This place was even used to create the film adaptation of The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen. Additionally, this place was also used for military training in the early 2000s, and the tunnels were considered for weapons storage. All of this adds to the strange allure of this creepy and fascinating place.
 At one point a small stretch of the abandoned road was used to test the technology that brought safety features such as rumble strips, road reflectors, and guardrails.
 After the success of these tests, these then cutting edge technologies were used across the country.
 And now we approach our first tunnel, the western portal of the Ray's Hill Tunnel, the shortest tunnel that was used on the turnpike, measuring in at 2,532 feet. It feels quite a bit longer when you are in the middle of it, in complete darkness.
 Getting closer. I seldom get anxiety when I go into things. Needless to say, I was a little bit nervous.
 The same view, but from the 1940s. It was taken by the Office of War Information
My junk road bike got the job done for this. If you plan on biking this, it might be best for you to bring a mountain bike, or possibly a spare tube or two. I did not have problems, but I did see a few other visitors having bike problems. 
 Some sort of bird nest in the ventilation portal for the tunnel.
There is access to the ventilation portals and the maintenance areas of the tunnels. There are explicit warnings not to enter them. The welded shut doors are also a solid hint that it is not a good idea to trespass into these areas of the tunnels.

It is surprising how little vandalism is in the tunnel and throughout the area for having sat abandoned for 47 years.
 You can see some of the stone from the original tunnel structure from over 134 years ago.
 I love the Art Deco styling of the old tunnels. I wish that someone had not stolen the letters from the tunnel signs.
 The portals almost remind me of the sunrise style of Radio City Music Hall. As you can see here, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, way out there!
 Here you can see the original recessed lighting holes for the lights.
It was a beautiful warm day in the 60s, but it was really cold in the tunnels. As soon as I even got close to the Sideling Tunnel, the air coming out of it was so cold that I actually felt frostbite on my face.
 The further you went in, the less you could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
 It was nearly pitch black.
Getting there.....
 Almost!
 And we are out! Back to four lanes, phew!
 It surprises me how the road is in good shape like this. The woods and scenery at the Abandoned Turnpike are really quite beautiful. 
 Double white line! A tunnel must be coming!
 Ta da! The western portal of the Sideling Hill Tunnel. We went from the shortest of the original turnpike tunnels, to the longest at 6,782 feet, over a mile and a quarter long. 
 Talk about an abrupt change from four lanes to two. This must have been a traffic and safety nightmare.
Library of Congress Photo from 1940
Big Difference
Yeah I got about this far and then chickened out. Too much leakage, debris, and cold air that piercing enough to cause frostbite. Still really cool though!
 There was quite a bit of leaking in this tunnel between the springs in the mountain and the warm weather melting down the remaining snow.

 Lots of debris and pieces of concrete were piled up as well. I was pretty uneasy about going into this tunnel.
 That is one long tunnel!
 Turned around
 Back to Ray's Hill Tunnel, eastern portal.
Video of the first half of the ride through the Rays Hill Tunnel
Second half of the tunnel. Super Creepy!
The nonprofit Pike2Bike is working on making the Abandoned Turnpike more accessible. Access to the road is already pretty excellent and the attraction has proven to be quite popular. I ran into at least forty people in the two hours I spent there. I look forward to seeing what the future of this is. I would love to see an attraction on par with a state park get created on this land. It is an attraction like no other, between the quiet and secluded woods that the route travels through, the two huge abandoned tunnels, and more. I would love to see a small campground get built, along with some facilities to capitalize upon the tourism potential of this attraction. As is though, I still dub it as a must-see attraction. Another bucket list thing checked off for me.

8 comments :

  1. Thanks for sharing. Going there at the end of the month. It's on my bucket list too!

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  2. Great pics. Makes me want to road trip out there to see.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Very interesting story, would be nice to hike the areas and the tunnels.

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  5. Very interesting story, would be nice to hike the areas and the tunnels.

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  6. Your photos are great! I love the area and have been interested in it since well before I finally made it there from Kentucky. I wrote a post about it as a sort of an introduction to the online history I am writing about the abandoned turnpike. There's still time to share scans of newspapers and any early online sources, I am trying to preserve them. The trail's online history is falling apart faster than it is.

    https://thrillseekingbehavior.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/abandoned-pennsylvania-turnpike-part-1/

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  7. The nest was built by crows. They were angry when I got close to it on one of my trips

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