Today, the ribbon-cutting event for the latest section of Mon-Fayette Expressway occurred. Not only did I pick up several free bottles of water compliments of the Turnpike Commission, I picked up something I haven’t seen in years: a new 2011 official Turnpike map.
The PTC’s “belt-tightening” in recent years led to them not printing a map. It is evident by looking at this one, as it is much smaller than its 2004 ancestor. The reason for this change is in a note below the legend:
In addition, the map is not a PennDOT official. The Turnpike System is not highlighted in green, with a white-on-green Keystone shield denoting the route number. That was the standard since the 1980s. It appears with these two changes that the Turnpike map is returning to its ones from the 1960s and 1970s, which were printed by Rand McNally and General Drafting.
The main map of Pennsylvania features images of postcards of the Turnpike at the top of the map. A mention of the 70 years of the Turnpike is in the corner, the milestone celebrated the year before. One change I like is that the background of the border states are not pink or purple as they were on the 2004 map.
The back side of the map still includes information on E-ZPass and commercial trucking regulations. There is toll information but just like the first run of tickets this year, there is no fare schedule. There are strip maps for the system. However, the insets of cities which the Turnpike passes through are no longer. The following are changes since the 2004 edition:
Allegheny County/Washington County PA Turnpike 576 completed between Interstate 376 and US 22
Tom Petty said the waiting is the hardest part, and the Turnpike Commission can attest to that musical proclamation. The Mason-Dixon Link, which is the section from the state line to Exit 8 of the Mon-Fayette Expressway, was built in the late 1990s. The majority of it opened on March 1, 2000, to traffic. The exception was the piece from the West Virginia state line to Exit 2. That would remain unopened for a little over a decade. The reason due to construction of WV 43 taking longer than projected because of finance issues. Ironically, that problem would be solved during the economic downturn of the latter part of the 2000s. ARRA, or economic stimulus, dollars were provided to the states for “shovel-ready” projects. Today, PA Turnpike 43 finally opens to West Virginia!
At last, the time finally came to let that “new road smell” loose and allow vehicles other than construction company ones to drive across the state line. There were two ribbon-cutting ceremonies held: one south of the Mason-Dixon Line and one north.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation was up first at 10:30 AM. They brought their starting line-up of dignitaries, including Senator Joe Manchin III and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. Below is footage of the West Virginia ceremony.
After the cutting of the ribbon, it was time to jump into the provided shuttle buses or your personal vehicle and head back north into Pennsylvania. Our ribbon-cutting event was not as long nor as well attended by officials as West Virginia’s.
The ceremonies marking the end of the 11-year wait for the Mon-Fayette Expressway’s “Mason-Dixon Link” to finally cross the Mason-Dixon Line. In short, PA Turnpike 43 finally opens to West Virginia!
Global Positioning Satellites, or GPS, has revolutionized the world. Now with the help of GPS-enabled devices, being lost is quickly becoming obsolete. Not only can people be found who were lost and possibly injured in the deepest wooded area, but drivers can find that hidden shortcut, and walkers and joggers can record their latest achievement.
One of the uses of GPS chips has been inclusion in cell phones over the past decade. Aside from being able to locate you in the event of an emergency when calling 911, it can help navigate unfamiliar territory. The advent of the smartphone has brought apps utilizing the GPS chip such as Google Maps and Foursquare.
“What is Foursquare?” you may ask. It is a social networking platform like Twitter and Facebook, but unlike those websites, Foursquare gets you away from your computer and out exploring. Users can “check in” to various locations from their cell phones, which earn them points and badges. Check in more times at one place, and you will become “Mayor” of that location which might earn you a perk.
Foursquare is about where Twitter was two years ago. It is on the cusp of being the “next big thing” in the world of Web 2.0. Just as organizations jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, they are jumping, or I should say checking in, on the Foursquare bandwagon. VisitPA (the Department of Tourism) has three badges, PA Retail Polka, PA 4 Score & 7, and PA Shooflyer, that users can earn by checking in at certain places around the Commonwealth.
Now Pennsylvania Highways has joined them, and Washington State Department of Transportation and Missouri Department of Transportation, with a Foursquare page. It will be used to give tips on highway-related check in points such as the Squirrel Hill Tunnel or one of the Turnpike interchanges, but only read them on the website or let a passenger read them to you. Perhaps a badge or two will be offered if Foursquare permits it in the future, but before you ask, there will not be a “Pothole Badge.”
It has been three years since there was a holiday edition of the longest running road enthusiast meets in southwestern Pennsylvania. That and the streak of Saturday-only meets came to an end today with the Winter 2010 SWPA Meet. I’d like to thank all who traveled both near and far to attend. They did so even with the snow falling in the area and the winter storm churning up the Eastern Seaboard.
The meet began at 12 PM at the Route 40 Classic Diner on what is now Business US 40 in Brownsville. Food was good as well as the conversations. My Maryland counterpart, Mike Pruett, brought a copy of an old trails guide book. It is a precursor to the modern road atlas, from the late 1920s, for everyone to peruse. I brought some recent Pennsylvania official maps from 2006 to 2010. Just in case anyone needed to fill gaps in their collections.
Since these holiday meets are on a smaller scale than the ones during warmer months, the tour was not too extensive. After lunch, we headed down Business US 40 into Brownsville for a taste of the old National Road and to check out the work on connecting PA Turnpike 43 to the PA 88 expressway in West Brownsville. The new alignment, which leaves PA 88, is quite evident as it swings east to cross the Monongahela River. The former intersection of old and new PA 88 has been reconfigured to be a continual route through the future interchange. This leaves up for debate whether PA 88 will be moved back to its former route into West Brownsville, or join with PA Turnpike 43 to US 40.
The cloverleaf at PA Turnpike 43 and US 40 is temporarily a partial one. This is due to ongoing construction to upgrade the segment of PA 88 that will be incorporated into the expressway. The northbound lanes are being rebuilt. What is interesting is that the overhead gantry that was before the cloverleaf has been replaced with a blue, mono-tube gantry that is seemingly becoming standard on the roadway.
Back across the Lane Bane Bridge, we picked up the old road and stopped at the Searights Toll House. Unlike the last Winter SWPA Meet, there were no broken windows nor damaged screen doors to report. It was good to see that a security system was installed, as indicated by a sign by the entrance. Here we said goodbye to half of the attendees and the rest of us continued east on US 40 to drive through the new PA Turnpike 43/US 119 stack interchange. Afterward, we took the new route back to bring the Winter 2010 SWPA Meet to an end saying our farewells, and headed to our respective destinations.
The brisk morning of December 13 marked the beginning of the end for the long-awaited Uniontown-to-Brownsville section of the long-awaited Mon-Fayette Expressway. It was then that the flyover interchange opens between PA Turnpike 43, US 119, and PA 51/Pittsburgh Street in Uniontown.
With the SWPA XMAS Meet a week away, I decided to make a trip to scout locations for the tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there until dusk, so none of the pictures came out clearly enough to post. The few that I did take, I was able to update the US 119 and PA Turnpike 43 Exit Guides. The interchange itself is quite an impressive Semi-Directional “T,” with the diamond interchange with PA 51 underneath. What is strange is that the ramp from US 119 northbound is only one lane. It should be two since it is carrying the PA Turnpike 43 designation.
While both directions of US 119 have a diagrammatical sign for this complex junction, the guide sign for Turnpike 43 heading southbound on US 119 has the control cities of Brownsville and Pittsburgh, while northbound it is just Pittsburgh.
As of now, there are no exit numbers for any of the interchanges between the Chadville Demonstration Project in South Uniontown and the new interchange at Pittsburgh Street. Not surprising considering that there is only one PA Turnpike 43 marker on US 40 westbound/US 119 northbound. It is located just before the Main Street interchange. While the US 40 and US 119 markers are posted together, the poor PA Turnpike 43 is by itself about 30 feet before the other two. Poor PA Turnpike 43, ostracized by the black and white markers! Heading southbound, there is only one mention of PA Turnpike 43 on a pull-through sign at the Main Street interchange. Then there is nothing until the 40/119 split. Only then is it denoted as PA 43 which it has since that section was completed almost two decades ago.
While the flyover interchange opens, the segment from it to Exit 15 at Northgate Highway also opened to traffic Monday. Northbound traffic exiting and southbound traffic entering at that interchange will have to pay a toll.
Today, I stopped at the welcome center on Interstate 70 at the Maryland state line in Warfordsburg and picked up a copy of the 2010 official road map. I am surprised PennDOT even bothered to print one this late in the year that isn’t a “B” version, especially since there will be a new governor come Tuesday. These are the changes since the 2009 edition, all of which involve the extension of Interstate 376:
Beaver County/Lawrence County/New Castle Inset Interstate 376 replaced PA 60 and PA Turnpike 60
Mercer County Interstate 376 replaced PA 60 PA 760 replaced PA 60 from I-80 to Sharon
Those are all the changes to the 2010 official road map. In addition, there are two mentions of the new 511 system: one on the back cover under the list of welcome centers and another at the top next to the legend.
Rarely do I find an error on the official maps, but this year there is a blatant one near the junction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway and PA 60 west of Pittsburgh. A US 22/US 322 shield is located where there should be, and last year was, a US 22/US 30 shield.
It has the same dimensions as the previous year’s. However, this year’s cover features a view of Johnstown from the Inclined Plane station above the city in Westmont.
After a six-year hiatus, the second SEPA Road Enthusiast Meet was held today. I’d like to thank all who attended and for making the trip for the 2010 SEPA Meet, which took the record for attendance at a Pennsylvania meet from the 2003 SWPA Meet.
The 2010 SEPA Meet began as usual at 12 PM at the Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery, home of the Route 113 Indian Pale Ale, on what else, PA 113 in Phoenixville. Some of the attendees did partake of the Route 113 IPA, or as PennDOT would call it, the SR 0113 Indian Pale Ale. It just might end up being the official beverage for road enthusiasts over the age of 21. The food was good as well as the conversations.
Many of the attendees brought road-related materials to peruse as well as to keep: Adam Froehlig – various state official maps from Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania; Doug Kerr – I-87 Northway maps; and H. B. Elkins – goodie bags full of Kentucky maps and other Kentucky Transportation Cabinet paraphernalia. I brought a planning map for the Keystone State’s Interstate System from the early 1960s for guests to view. In 2006, I had acquired that from eBay.
After lunch, we hopped in our cars and followed PA 23 to the first stop, which was at the Philadelphia Traffic Management Center in the PennDOT District 6-0 headquarters in King of Prussia. Thanks go to Len Pundt, who worked for PennDOT and who helped arrange the tour. The TMC, which was called the Traffic Control Center when I toured it in 2004, has been upgraded since then. Two video walls show feeds from traffic cameras around Philadelphia, as well as content from the Internet and TV. There was a bit of excitement as we were witness to an accident on the Platt Bridge, tying up traffic. Accidents seems to have become a constant with Pennsylvania meets involving a traffic management center tour.
Continuing east on PA 23, we stopped at the Schuylkill Parkway overpass just north of Bridgeport. Len described what was to have happened with that project. It would have been the eastern end of the “Goat Path” Expressway, which was to begin in Lancaster. Len provided some background on this abandoned project. One of its current uses is as a driver training course for the State Police. He explained PennDOT’s funding issues, which led to it cancelling this and numerous other expressway projects in the 1970s. One of the points he made was that cancelling these projects did initially save money. However, there is no way to build these to solve the traffic issues of the 21st Century. Right-of-way acquisition alone would be astronomically high to carve these highways through dense urbanized areas.
We bid Len adieu and took I-276/PA Turnpike eastbound to PA 309 northbound to observe some of the rehabilitation project. Work has been taking place since 2003 along the Fort Washington Expressway. As soon as joining the expressway, we experienced a vastly improved roadway from the one that had been serving commuters since it was built as a new alignment for US 309. We encountered the last remaining section to be undergoing rehabilitation heading north and exited in the construction zone at Norristown Road to go west to Bethlehem Pike. That roadway was the pre-expressway route of US 309. Traveling north to Cedar Hill Road allowed us to view the progress on the northernmost segment from an overpass.
After stopping at the overpass to see the work, we continued northeast to PA 63 then turned northwest to go to the intersection with US 202 to see the progress on the US 202 Parkway project. A new alignment is underway at PA 63 and work is taking place south along the current alignment.
We passed some of the work along US 202 as we headed back to the Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery to conclude the 2010 SEPA Meet. Back at the restaurant, we said our farewells and headed to our respective destinations.
The Federal Highway Administration vetoed the Commonwealth’s plan to put tolls on Interstate 80 to help fill the potholes in PennDOT’s budget. Since then, ideas on how to accomplish that feat in a different manner have been flying fast and furious. Any plan will mean drivers will pay more. The task of finding $472 million was taken up by three state representatives: Bill Kortz of Allegheny County, Michael O’Brien of Philadelphia, and Scott Conklin of Centre County. Their idea? Tolls! What a welcome to Pennsylvania for drivers.
Their idea is officially called Special Session House Bill 2 or “Gateway Tolling for Transportation Independence Today.” It would have toll plazas constructed at the state lines on Interstates 78, 79, 80, 81, 84, 90, and 95. Traffic entering and exiting would be charged anywhere between $1 for passenger vehicles to $5 for trucks. Residents near the borders could buy a book of tickets at a reduced price to give them a cheaper toll. However, trucking companies based within Pennsylvania would be entirely exempt from paying. The toll booths would be manned by PennDOT, not PTC, employees. They would offer coin-drop baskets as well as E-ZPass gantries equipped with video cameras to capture violator’s license plates who would receive a bill in the mail.
These tolls would basically be a “user fee” paid by those who drive said Interstates, for maintenance of said Interstate. Tolling currently free Interstates whose construction was funded 90% by the federal government is allowed to provide for maintenance, and only maintenance. The plan to toll Interstate 80 would have siphoned money off for other transportation-related projects, which is not allowed. Representative Coklin estimates that between $235 million and $300 million a year could be raised for the Department of Transportation.
The proposal faces two roadblocks: passage by the special session of the Legislature and a stamp of approval from the Federal Highway Administration. Since the proposal would need their approval, the process for implementation could take several years. Therefore, the idea might not provide immediate results.
Interstate 80 turns the big 4-0 this year! For most of those 40 years, politicians have been trying to undo what was done. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956. It kicked off the building of the Interstates as a system of free, limited-access highways crisscrossing the United States. This happened at a time when building toll roads were all the rage. Pennsylvania was the first to build a long-distance toll road and other states followed our lead.
Once the mainline Turnpike was finished and the Northeast Extension nearing completion, the Turnpike Commission looked to building other extensions. However, Ike stole the PTC’s thunder by putting pen to paper. All of those proposed extensions became the blueprint for the Department of Highways to lay out the Commonwealth’s Interstate System. Without Eisenhower witnessing the German Autobahns first-hand as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, what we now now know as Interstate 80 would have been constructed as the Turnpike Commission’s “Keystone Shortway.” So the idea of a toll road slicing right through the middle of Penn’s Woods is not a new idea. It’s just made to seem that way.
The exact day of Interstate 80’s completion is marked as September 21, 1970. Once completed, it was obvious that the road offered a shorter route between New York City and Chicago versus going north via the New York State Thruway or south via the Turnpike. Of course it wouldn’t be fair for Pennsylvanians to pay the entire cost of maintenance on the Interstate when most of the users were from out of state and just passing through. The first idea to change the Keystone Shortway into the “Keystone Tollway” came during the Milton Shapp administration in the early 1970s. Nothing happened.
The plan was resurrected in the 1980s when the Turnpike Expansion bill known as Act 61 was signed. Again nothing happened. In the late 1990s, Representative Bud Shuster (yes, Mr. Interstate 99) resurrected the idea because he felt road repairs were due. The proposal was originally rejected by Governor Tom Ridge but in April 1999 he went back; however, again nothing happened as Ridge was tapped to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security.
The idea resurfaced in 2004. Department of Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler told the state House Appropriations Committee then that a series of toll plazas could be built approximately every 30 miles across the state. He added that the feasibility study had been going on for several months and would take another two to complete. PennDOT would just need permission from the Federal Highway Administration to charge tolls. The reason is because federal money was used to build the Interstate.
There is also the question of whether the PTC or PennDOT would be in charge of operations and maintenance. Tolls are one option for raising needed funds to pay for maintenance and possibly widening it to six lanes in sections. One section in particular is from Interstate 81 to the Delaware River. A year later on March 8, 2005, Secretary Biehler told the Senate Appropriations Committee that costs of building toll booths, maintenance facilities, and police stations would exceed $650 million and take years to complete.
A PennDOT study stated it would be feasible to charge tolls over the long run. However, it would take decades to break even and pay off the debt. Biehler said that “it wasn’t a wise move to institute tolls at this time.” State Senator J. Barry Stout of Washington County said he was “a little shocked to see the final conclusion.” As the minority chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, he endorsed the idea of putting ten toll booths, with a $2.50 fare at each, on the Interstate from Ohio to New Jersey. Again, nothing would happen.
The idea seemed to really start gaining traction in 2007 when Act 44 was passed. Under the terms, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission would take over operation of the road and construct ten toll plazas at 30 mile intervals from Ohio to New Jersey. The estimated $946 million/year collected from them, as well as increased fare rates on the mainline Turnpike, would go to fund highway and bridge repairs across the state. Officials continued to push ahead by announcing that the PTC would spend more than $1 billion on improvements to the Interstate over the next few years. They would include repairing bridges, adding truck climbing lanes, upgrading pavement, and extending on-ramps.
On October 16, 2007, the Department of Transportation and Turnpike Commission entered into a 50-year lease agreement for Interstate 80. As part of Act 44, the two agencies filed a formal application with the Federal Highway Administration on October 13 seeking approval to implement tolls.
However, in a letter dated October 17 to Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler and PTC CEO Joseph Brimmeier, chief counsel and acting deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, James D. Ray stated,
On the night of Thursday, November 9, Congress eliminated the amendment to a transportation appropriations bill that would have forbidden putting tolls on free Interstates. That was done at the request of Governor Rendell, Democrats, and Senator Arlen Specter. The two Representatives from along the corridor who added the rider cried foul.
On July 14, 2008, the Turnpike Commission announced its planned $2.5 billion upgrades to the Interstate in the first decade of ownership. The upgrades include building two new interchanges to connect the Interstate with Interstate 99, replacing or resurfacing about 80 percent of the 311 miles, and replacing 60 original bridges.
On August 6, the PTC announced their toll collecting would be much different than that on their other expressways. Instead of traditional toll plazas, Interstate 80 would be the first all electronic toll road in Pennsylvania. It would have E-ZPass readers at nine gantries across the state each costing $60 million to build. Those without a transponder would be sent a picture of their license plate and a bill for their toll plus a $1 processing fee. In both cases much like the 407 ETR outside of Toronto, Ontario.
Those with transponders would also get a free pass at the first gantry, roughly equating to a 60-mile free ride on the road. After that, they would be charged $2.70 at the second and each gantry after wards. This offer would not be extended to most commercial vehicles, including 18-wheelers that account for up to 30% of traffic. However, regular users would be eligible for volume discounts.
Feeling confident and having all their cars in a row, the state resubmitted the plan on July 22, 2008. They expected the decision would take two or three months to decided on phase one approval for tolling Interstate 80. Two months later, the decision handed down was against tolling 80, so yet again nothing would happen.
The story might have ended there. It didn’t as the Commonwealth submitted the exact plan a second time in late October 2009. It came as no surprise to this blogger that on April 6, 2010, yet again the application was rejected. However, this time it seems the Federal Highway Administration finally drove a stake through the plan’s heart. Governor Rendell announced that day that it will not be resubmitted. Therefore, it can finally be said that after 40 years, nothing will happen.
It is that time of the year, commonly referred to as the holiday let down. That period in the calendar when we go from ushering in a new year to hiding eggs. People start looking forward to the Summer and vacation time it will bring. It is also that time of the year when the trucking industry magazine, Overdrive, releases the results of their latest “Worst Roads” survey. Sadly to say, we’re number one again.
For most of the 1990s, Pennsylvania held the dubious distinction of “Worst Roads” in the United States. The state’s fortunes began to change in the late 1990s, when Pennsylvania slid down to second place.
For the past decade, the number one slot has bounced between newcomers such as Arkansas and Louisiana. Pennsylvania has taken top, or bottom, billing 13 out of 19 years Overdrive has been conducting the survey. It takes the title back in 2009. I find this distinction particularly amusing this year. The reason being the replacement or rehabilitation of all the structurally deficient bridges thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In fact, a Congressional committee named Pennsylvania as the top-ranked large state, third overall, for starting and completing projects funded by the ARRA.
States are not just judged by the conditions of their highway systems, but other things related to trucking. Interstate 80 still retains the title of “Most Improved Road” from last year. However, in 2008 it was second under “Best Highway Segment” and forth under “Worst Highway Segment.”
Pennsylvania still retains third place for “Toughest on Truck Inspections and Law Enforcement.” A distinction it shares with Maryland this year. The strangest change is our truck stops. They went from third best to a tie with California and New York for third worst. Now that’s some swing!
You’re probably wondering how something like that, or the aforementioned Interstate 80 ranking, can happen. I learned from an editor with Overdrive the process of tallying the votes. Instead of averaging the good and bad scores, the good and bad are separated, then averaged. That explains how Pennsylvania was second under “Worst Roads” and five under “Best Roads” one year.
Unfortunately, no shout out this year for me or the website. It is just as well since Pennsylvania highways (the ones made of concrete and asphalt) are back on top, or bottom.