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Announcements News

2013 Official Turnpike Map

At today’s car show at the Sideling Hill Service Plaza, not only did I receive a lot of Turnpike “swag,” but included in the “goodie” bag that all participants received was a copy of the new 2013 official Turnpike map.

It is the same size as the 2011 version, but instead of being a tri-fold map, this year’s version features an “accordion” fold.  The following are the changes made since the last edition:

Carbon County
E-ZPass-only interchange on Interstate 476/Pennsylvania Turnpike-Northeast Extension marked as under construction

Fayette County/Washington County
PA Turnpike 43 open between US 40 and PA 88

The cover features a picture of the mainline Turnpike between the Blue Mountain and Carlisle interchanges.  You can view the strip maps of the 2013 official Turnpike map at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s page.

Cover of the 2013 Turnpike Travel Guide and Map
 
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Events News

Pennsylvania Turnpike 75th Birthday Car Show

When the weather turns warm in Pennsylvania, it is a time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.  We have an abundance of state parks and historic sites. Therefore, there is plenty to see and do in the Keystone State. One such activity that can shake off “cabin fever” is a good, old fashioned car show.  Since this year marks the Pennsylvania Turnpike 75th birthday of the original section of Turnpike from Irwin to Carlisle opening, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission held a car show at the Sideling Hill Service Plaza today.

Others had been held for other birthday milestone years, so this is not the first time.  However, this was the first one with myself and my family in attendance.  We had a vehicle worthy of displaying this time.

Attendees who were displaying their vehicles could either come via the Turnpike itself for free thanks to Sunoco picking up the tab, or other routes.  We decided on the latter.  I will say it was a little strange to enter a service plaza through a gate instead of a ramp.

Vehicles from various eras and states on display at the Pennsylvania Turnpike 75th Birthday Car Show

While the show took place, HMS Host, managers of the service plazas, sold hot dogs and Coca-Cola products for the price of what they cost in 1940.  The Turnpike Commission sold 75th Anniversary memorabilia, including a hard-cover picture book detailing the history of the highway. I even had a chance to meet a fan of the site since its America Online days, Ron Breisch.

Participants had chances to win items from the Turnpike Commission answering trivia questions as well as in a raffle. I didn’t think it would be too sporting if the Webmaster of Pennsylvania Highways answered each question. Therefore, I just answered one of the trivia questions and won a PTC t-shirt.  In addition, I won a model of an old fashioned Coca-Cola delivery truck in the raffle. Above all, participants received a swag bag of goodies which are pictured below.

 
 
 
 
 
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Some of the swag obtained at the PA Turnpike 75th Anniversary Car Show today. #paturnpike #paturnpike75 #ptc #swag

A post shared by Pennsylvania Highways (@pahighways) on

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful drive to and from the plaza for the Pennsylvania Turnpike 75th Birthday Car Show. The car show was a nice event to celebrate the Turnpike’s diamond anniversary; however, it was also communal event that brought out people from across the state and even country.

PA Turnpike Celebrating 75 Years! – Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

 

 

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Announcements News

2011 Official Turnpike Map

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 summed up in a note below the legend:

To conserve natural and fiscal resources, our Travel Guide and Map is half the size of earlier editions. The new size also responds to a shift in how travelers — in an age of online maps and GPS devices — use printed maps today.

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

PA Turnpike 576 shown as completed on the 2011 official turnpike map

Beaver County/Lawrence County
Interstate 376 replaced PA Turnpike 60

Interstate 376 replaces PA Turnpike 60 on the 2011 official turnpike map

Fayette County
PA Turnpike 43 completed from Exit 15 to Exit 22

Fayette County/Washington County
PA Turnpike 43 under construction from US 40 to PA 88

PA Turnpike 43 completed from Exit 15 to Exit 22 and under construction from there to PA 88 on the 2011 official turnpike map

The Turnpike Commission has PDF versions of the strip maps for the Mainline, PA Turnpike 376, and PA Turnpike 66; PA Turnpike 43; and PA Turnpike 576 available at their website.

The cover of the 2011 official Turnpike map features three postcards of various sections from the original Turnpike with the logo of the 70th anniversary in the middle.

Cover of the 2011 Turnpike Travel Guide and Map
 
Categories
Events News

Turnpike 43 FINALLY Opens to West Virginia

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!

Entering PA Turnpike 43 northbound via the off-ramp at Exit 2
Entering PA Turnpike 43 northbound at Exit 2 in a southerly direction to reach the site of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

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.  Two ribbon-cutting ceremonies would be 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHJiS1ueIoo

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.

Local and state officials cutting the ribbon for PA Turnpike 43 at the state line
The people most responsible for the highway coming into existence are behind the sign, from left to right:  PTC Commissioner J. William Lincoln, new PTC CEO William K. Lieberman, Senator Richard Kasunic, and former Senator J. Barry Stout.

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!

Officials Open Yet Another Part of Mon-Fayette Expressway – Greensburg Tribune-Review

 
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News

A Flyover Interchange Opens in Fayette County

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 diagramatical 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.

Diagramatical guide sign for the flyover interchange between PA Turnpike 43 and US 119
Guide sign on PA Turnpike 43 southbound approaching US 119.

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.

 
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News

For Whom the Road Will Not Toll

Keystone Shortway will remain a free road

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,

As should be clear, FHWA has not granted Pennsylvania the authority to toll I-80.  In fact, now that we have received a formal application, we will conduct a thorough analysis of the application’s merits based on the statutory criteria and determine if the selection of Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania for one of three nationwide tolling pilot authorities is appropriate.  The approval of any application under this program is a discretionary decision.  We will take into account a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, actual or expected competition from other interstate facilities.

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.

Federal Officials Again Reject Tolling I-80 – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 
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News

We’re Number One! Yet Again!

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 of 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 is number one once again in Overdrive's "Worst Roads" ranking even though Interstate 80 is still the "Most Improved Road."
Interstate 80 through Stroudsburg

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.

The Good, The Bad, The Better – Overdrive

 
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Events News

Community Day on the Expressway

Today was the latest of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s “Community Day on the Expressway” events. This is the third one which I have attended. However, this is the first one I went to for a section of roadway which I was also at its groundbreaking ceremony.

The festivities took place just outside of Uniontown on the newest section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway. It will open to traffic on October 23.  These are nice events that the PTC holds prior to opening a new section of roadway. They give the public to chance to preview the new roadway.

Today’s “Community Day” took place at Exit 18. It was held in partnership with the Fayette Chamber of Commerce, Steps to a Healthier PA – Fayette County, the National Road Heritage Corridor, and construction manager TCMS-Maguire.

Steps to a Healthier PA – Fayette County sponsored a Family Fun Walk. Although it began at 9 AM, it lasted the rest of the day. The public was welcome to walk, jog, or bike on eight miles of the road. However, school buses provided a quicker tour if you did not want to use those options to view Turnpike 43. After that, the next part of the event was the “Modes of Transportation” parade at 10 AM.

Fifteen vendors selling food and crafts lined the road. A children’s area had balloon art from Airheads Balloon Art to keep the kids busy. The Rainbow Express trackless train was available for them to ride around on the roadway nearby.  In addition, there were informational booths from the Turnpike Commission and the National Road Heritage Corridor.

Vendors of all kinds line the northbound lanes of PA Turnpike 43 for Community Day on the Expressway.
Food vendors, informational booths, and a children’s area were provided
The Rainbow Express trackless train was one of several activities for children during Community Day on the Expressway.
The Rainbow Express trackless train was one of several activities for children

Residents Get Close-Up View of Expressway – Uniontown Herald Standard

 
Categories
Announcements News

Get Your Kicks on Route 76…276…476

The first major snow and ice storm of the year has hit the Commonwealth. Highway travel across the state was hampered from its wrath. Due to the severity of the storm and its impact, the Turnpike Commission has suspended toll collection on its roadways. So you can get your kicks on route 76…276…476.

Snow cover across the state which led to get your kicks on route 76, 276, 476.
Snow cover across the state (NOAA)

Sections of Interstate 80 and Interstate 81 have had to close due to stranded vehicles. This has led to the inability for PennDOT plow trucks to clear the roadway. However, the worst back-up took place on Interstate 78 which stretched for about 50 miles from Interstate 81 in Lebanon County to PA 100 in Lehigh County. Numerous tractor-trailers began spinning out and jack-knifing trying to ascend a hill on the Interstate near Hamburg. What started out as snow had changed to ice which led to the poor conditions. Around 9 PM on Valentine’s Day, the National Guard began using humvees to deliver food, blankets, and baby supplies to those trapped in the gridlock.

PennDOT began to close down sections of those Interstates this morning to clear the vehicles as well as the snow and ice.  The problem was that motorists were still able to enter the highways at various points, which added to the existing problem.

With the amount of time it will take PennDOT crews to clean up the scenes and get the Interstates back in shape for traffic, they are asking cross-state traffic to use the Turnpike’s mainline and Northeast Extension as alternate routes.

Governor Rendell has declared a statewide Disaster Emergency. As part of that declaration, tolls are waived on the Turnpike. This is the first time since the first day of the collector strike in 2004. So if you are crossing the state, you can get your kicks on route 76…276…476.

Toll Waiving – Disaster Emergency – Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

 
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News

Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc

From North to South and East to West, there was no hiding from the wrath of Mother Nature the past two days.  Whatever your mode of transportation was, it was either slowed or outright stopped as the first major storm of 2007 made its trek towards the Atlantic.  The worst of the storm hit the eastern side of the state. Interstate 78 was at a stand-still for most of Valentine’s Day. However, all parts of Pennsylvania felt the brunt of this storm. The following is a round-up of road-related stories from all points inside the Keystone State when a winter storm wreaks havoc.

Northwest
Keeping Snow Away from the Street – WICU-TV Erie
Snowy Side Streets Trap Drivers, Towing Warning – WJET-TV Erie

Northeast
Roads Called “Horrible” – WNEP-TV Scranton
Interstates Closed for Icy Conditions – WNEP-TV Scranton
Storm Brings Mixed Bag – Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Southeast
Colossal Traffic Mess Strands Motorists For Hours – KYW-TV Philadelphia
Logjam Gone, But I-78 Closed – WPVI-TV Philadelphia
Hundreds Stranded on Interstate 78 – WHTM-TV Harrisburg

Southwest
Valentine’s Day Storm Causes Treacherous Commute – WTAE-TV Pittsburgh
Local Woman’s Frightening Ordeal On I-78 Ends – KDKA-TV Pittsburgh
Crash in Snow Causes I-79 Closure – WPXI-TV Pittsburgh
Rendell Declares State of Emergency – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The snow cover after a winter storm wreaks havoc in 2007.
Snow cover across the state (NOAA)

Where I live east of Pittsburgh, or “ice-burgh” as it was referred to in the media, we received about seven inches. It would have been more if the precipitation did not turn from snow to freezing rain through Wednesday morning.  When I checked my e-mail this morning, there were almost 130 travel bulletins from the PTC and PennDOT!  Public transportation was not a choice either as the subway, also known as the “T,” was not running through the South Hills. The reason for the closure of the subway was due to ice on the overhead wires.

This winter storm is now winding down. Needless to say this will not be the last time a winter storm wreaks havoc.

 
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