Today was the Turnpike Commission’s Community Day on the Findlay Connector. The official name is the Southern Beltway and the designation is PA Turnpike 576. It was not my first visit, but my second visit to the completed roadway. However, unlike during the National meet back in August, the State Police did not chase me off the expressway this time.
This Community Day event reminded me of the first one I attended in 1993. That was the first one the Turnpike Commission did prior to PA Turnpike 66 opening.
There were things there for everyone to enjoy during what the PTC called a “once-in-a-lifetime” event. For me, it was a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I cite the aforementioned trip down the unopened expressway that came to an abrupt end.
This time around, everyone was allowed onto the expressway and not just attendees to a road enthusiast meet. Booths of all kind lined what are the northbound lanes at the US 30 interchange, or Exit 2. Food booths provided quick meals for those who attended. The West Allegheny and Moon Area high school bands and West Hills Symphony Orchestra performed for the crowd. The PTC had a booth with information on the entire Southern Beltway project, Turnpike maps, and E-ZPass applications. Port Authority buses made continual loops of the six-mile-long section so people to see the expressway. At the same time, others hiked, jogged, and biked the alignment.
I finished my Community Day on the Findlay Connector, taking a ride down the expressway. I have always enjoyed these open houses that the PTC hold, and not just for the free stuff. Hopefully they continue to be a part of the PTC’s public relations “tool box.”
Today I had the honor to be a part of Pennsylvania’s commemoration of the signage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which took place at the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg. It was a birthday celebration for the Interstate System. It’s so hard to shop for a highway!
Dignitaries, media, and those who were a part of the re-enactment of the 1919 Army convoy, gathered at the Eisenhower farm. As a result, the original convoy showed a young kid by the name of Eisenhower the necessity of good transportation. Not to mention his time in World War II.
The bus ride from Gettysburg Middle School was a nice jaunt through the historic borough. I sat next to a gentleman from Omaha, Nebraska who was representing Werner Enterprising trucking. He gave me a foam stress reliever in the shape of the familiar Werner 18-wheeler. He mentioned that he had never visited anything in Pennsylvania, but had driven through the state many times. Not surprising considering there are only two routes from New England to the rest of the country that bypass the state.
Once at the farm, we toured the main house, where the Eisenhowers had entertained dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Nikita Khrushchev. It is a very beautiful and sprawling holding. After everyone had finished taking the tour, it was time for the press conference.
First to speak was Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation, Allen Biehler. After him were Joe Brimmeir, CEO of the Turnpike Commission, J. Richard Capka from the Federal Highway Administration, and Ted Leonard from the Pennsylvania AAA Federation.
After the press conference, I introduced myself to Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT’s Press Secretary, who invited me to the event. He praised the work I have done on the website and said it is a great resource. Specifically, he commended my work on the histories of the highways. While we were talking, Secretary Biehler came over to speak with Mr. Kirkpatrick. At that point, I introduced myself and Mr. Kirkpatrick remarked, “This is the guy who does that website.” He gave me an Interstate 50th pin, which is similar to the image below.
While waiting for our bus back to the school, I overheard a man talking about the weather. I introduced myself and he did likewise. He mentioned he was a representative from the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, which by the way own pahighways.org. I had discovered they owned the .org of my domain once. So, I mentioned that I own the .com. He said, “We know. We tried for the .com only to find you owned it.” Hey, you snooze, you lose.
Back at the school, we had a lovely catered meal. I had the honor to sit at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. While standing in line for lunch, I struck up a conversation with the Director of ODOT, Gary Ridley. I told him that I liked the new Oklahoma route marker, and we began discussing the states that used their outlines for their markers. I also mentioned having been to Oklahoma while storm chasing, and had talked to Gary England of KWTV-TV while researching a paper in college. Mr. Ridley said that Gary helps them with winter forecasts to determine where and when ODOT crews will be needed. The others at the table asked me what organization I was a member. I said, “I do a website called Pennsylvania Highways,” while Mr. Kirkpatrick happened to be walking behind me. He overheard and said, “It is a great website and resource.”
All in all, I enjoyed the event. I was honored that PennDOT even considered inviting me. Many thanks to Rich Kirkpatrick and the PennDOT Press Office. It was indeed a happy birthday for the Interstate System. You know what, it doesn’t look a day over 49! In conclusion, it is ironic to think that President Eisenhower’s farm can not be accessed directly via any Interstate.
I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Uniontown to Brownsville section of PA Turnpike 43/Mon-Fayette Expressway today. As a result, its exit guide and Mon-Fayette Expressway/Southern Beltway Progress Map have both been updated. Pictures of the ceremony are on the PA Turnpike 43 page.
This was the first groundbreaking I have attended, and it was basically what I expected. Local and state officials there to give speeches on how each had a hand in helping to bring the Mon-Fayette Expressway to fruition. Then there was the ceremonial first spade toss of dirt to signal the start of construction followed by a catered lunch for all who attended that included Stromboli, hot wings, BBQ wings, vegetables, cake, and cookies. I gave it four stars out of five.
One of the speakers was Senator J. Barry Stout, who is one of many state officials who spearheaded the project. The senator also happens to be the Chairman of the State Transportation Committee. After the ceremony, I introduced myself and asked if I could interview him. He gave me his business card and told me to call his office sometime.
Once the speeches from the various state and local officials were over, it was time to get down to business. We left the tent where we had lunch and headed out to the spot where the ceremony would take place.
E-ZPass appeared on the Pennsylvania Turnpike System six years ago, and it’s finally coming to the extensions in the Pittsburgh area. In addition, the current coin-drop machines will be upgraded to ones similar to those at the Jefferson Hills Toll Plaza on PA Turnpike 43 (Mon-Fayette Expressway).
About time, as the addition of E-ZPass is long overdue! A timetable with implementation dates had been placed on the Toll Highways page, but it was removed because I grew tired of changing it with a new, updated schedule that never seemed to pan out. If only it was active on PA Turnpike 43 when I drove that expressway almost on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up behind someone in the exact change lane, paying their toll in pennies! Not to mention the one night I found a toll collector asleep, leaning out of the booth.
As for the coin-drop machines, I also say about time! The early models are very temperamental and will sometimes not register your payment. Even when 66 opened in 1993, that summer I had a problem with one at its mainline toll plaza. The worst was once at the California Toll Plaza on Turnpike 43. I pulled into a lane and saw a worker standing at the machine. I threw my two quarters into the basket, the traffic signal turned green, and everything seemed fine. Then, WHAM, the gate came crashing down. Luckily, I hadn’t started yet, or I would have had a horizontal crease across my hood. All the worker said was, “whoops!” Yeah, that’d have been a big whoops the Turnpike Commission would have been paying to fix.
The only expressway not included in the expansion of E-ZPass is the aforementioned PA Turnpike 43 (Mon-Fayette Expressway). It is easy to see why, since right now it is a disjointed expressway with less traffic than the others.